A tale of two seasons: The link between seasonal migration and climatic niches in passerine birds

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


  • ece3.6729

    Final published version, 975 KB, PDF document

  • Alison Eyres
  • Katrin Boehning-Gaese
  • C. David L. Orme
  • Rahbek, Carsten
  • Susanne A. Fritz

The question of whether migratory birds track a specific climatic niche by seasonal movements has important implications for understanding the evolution of migration, the factors affecting species' distributions, and the responses of migrants to climate change. Despite much research, previous studies of bird migration have produced mixed results. However, whether migrants track climate is only one half of the question, the other being why residents remain in the same geographic range year-round. We provide a literature overview and test the hypothesis of seasonal niche tracking by evaluating seasonal climatic niche overlap across 437 migratory and resident species from eight clades of passerine birds. Seasonal climatic niches were based on a new global dataset of breeding and nonbreeding ranges. Overlap between climatic niches was quantified using ordination methods. We compared niche overlap of migratory species to two null expectations, (a) a scenario in which they do not migrate and (b) in comparison with the overlap experienced by closely related resident species, while controlling for breeding location and range size. Partly in accordance with the hypothesis of niche tracking, we found that the overlap of breeding versus nonbreeding climatic conditions in migratory species was greater than the overlap they would experience if they did not migrate. However, this was only true for migrants breeding outside the tropics and only relative to the overlap species would experience if they stayed in the breeding range year-round. In contrast to the hypothesis of niche tracking, migratory species experienced lower seasonal climatic niche overlap than resident species, with significant differences between tropical and nontropical species. Our study suggests that in seasonal nontropical environments migration away from the breeding range may serve to avoid seasonally harsh climate; however, different factors may drive seasonal movements in the climatically more stable tropical regions.

Original languageEnglish
JournalEcology and Evolution
Issue number21
Pages (from-to)11983-11997
Number of pages15
Publication statusPublished - 2020

    Research areas

  • comparative analysis, macroecology, nonbreeding, Passeriformes, seasonal migration, tropics, LATITUDINAL GRADIENT, EVOLUTION, PATTERNS, WINTER, RISK

Number of downloads are based on statistics from Google Scholar and www.ku.dk

No data available

ID: 250811455