Evolutionary Ecology

, Volume 7, Issue 6, pp 533–555

Site fidelity in predictable and unpredictable habitats

  • Paul V. Switzer

DOI: 10.1007/BF01237820

Cite this article as:
Switzer, P.V. Evol Ecol (1993) 7: 533. doi:10.1007/BF01237820


Site fidelity, the tendency to return to a previously occupied location, has been observed in numerous species belonging to at least three phyla. In this paper I develop a general model using dynamic programming to investigate conditions under which fidelity to a previously occupied territory will be advantageous. The results predict that site fidelity should be inversely related to heterogeneity in territory quality and the animal's lifespan and positively related to the cost of changing territories, age and probability of mortality in the habitat. The predictability of reproductive outcome (defined as the probability that next period's outcome will be the same as this period's outcome) also affects site fidelity. In predictable habitats, changing territories may be favoured after a bad previous outcome. In contrast, settlement should be independent of the previous outcome in unpredictable habitats. Individuals should also be site-faithful in unpredictable habitats, as long as the mean territory quality is equal among available territories. I also investigate the success of two potential decision rules (‘always stay’ and ‘win-stay: lose-switch’) relative to the optimal settlement strategy. The results show that these rules may perform as well as the optimal strategy under certain conditions. The always stay strategy does well in unpredictable habitats, when the mean quality within a territory is equal among territories. In contrast, the win-stay: lose-switch strategy performs best in predictable habitats.


site fidelity breeding dispersal habitat selection territoriality decision rules predictability dynamic programming 

Copyright information

© Chapman & Hall 1993

Authors and Affiliations

  • Paul V. Switzer
    • 1
  1. 1.Animal Behavior Group, Department of ZoologyUniversity of CaliforniaDavisUSA

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