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Evolution of bird migration in a biogeographical context

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We infer from the literature that migratory habits of birds evolved in various phylogenetic lineages and biogeographical contexts, either after gradual range expansion into seasonal habitats, or due to environmental changes within established breeding ranges. Shifts of breeding ranges are the results of interactions between colonization due to dispersal and extinction due to deteriorating conditions. Range expansions provide a platform for the evolution of migration from the newly colonized areas towards seasonally favourable non-breeding areas. A comparison of palaeoclimatic changes with concurrent evolution and distribution of passerine birds suggests that at least some of the basic genera of the Passerida radiated on the northern continents when quasi-tropical or subtropical climates prevailed. The Passerida may be a special case, but they suggest that ‘tropical origin’ does not necessarily imply a ‘southern origin’ of migratory species. Climate deterioration required adaptations either towards on-site survival under harsh conditions or towards escape movements allowing improved non-breeding survival in less seasonal climates or with reversed seasonality. Taxon-specific life-history traits and environmental conditions favoured either sedentary or migratory lines of adaptation. Repeated climate variation induced range shifts and concurrent increases or decreases in the expression of migratory behaviour. Two examples of waders suggest that the principle of range shift, followed by the development of migratory habits, is also applicable for other taxonomic groups.
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Keywords: Avian biogeography; Pleistocene; colonization; dispersal; palaeoclimate; passerine phylogeny; range shifts; seasonality; southern home; tropical origin

Document Type: Guest Editorial

Affiliations: Max-Planck-Institut für Ornithologie, Vogelwarte Radolfzell, Schlossallee 2, D-78315 Radolfzell, Germany

Publication date: November 1, 2008

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