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Is the range size of migratory birds constrained by their migratory program?

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Aim Intuitively, species in which the individuals migrate long distances between summer and winter quarters should be more likely to disperse and colonize new breeding areas than resident species. However, it has repeatedly been noted that many bird species with large ranges are residents. This paradox was tested on land birds breeding in the boreal forest of the Palaearctic, the largest uninterrupted stretch of habitat on earth.

Methods The longitudinal distribution of two land bird communities on each side of the Eurasian continent, in Scandinavia and eastern Siberia, were used to test whether migratory birds indeed have a lower colonization success than resident birds.

Results The migratory species are significantly less likely than resident species to have a range including both regions. The pattern held true even after controlling for latitudinal effects and local abundance, and was also observed at the level of genus and family.

Main conclusions The relatively low colonization success of migratory species into new breeding areas may be because these new areas require novel migratory programs (migratory distance, direction and timing) in order for the birds to reach suitable wintering grounds.

Keywords: Range limits; dispersal; forest fauna; migration; orientation

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of Animal Ecology, Ecology Building, Lund University, S-223 62 Lund, Sweden, Email:, Email:

Publication date: November 1, 1999

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