, Volume 95, Issue 12, pp 1109-1119

First online:

Emergence of long distance bird migrations: a new model integrating global climate changes

  • Antoine LouchartAffiliated withLa Font MignotIPHEP – Institut de Paléoprimatologie et Paléontologie humaine: Evolution et Paléoenvironnements, CNRS UMR 6046, UFR-SFA, Université de Poitiers Email author 

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During modern birds history, climatic and environmental conditions have evolved on wide scales. In a continuously changing world, landbirds annual migrations emerged and developed. However, models accounting for the origins of these avian migrations were formulated with static ecogeographic perspectives. Here I reviewed Cenozoic paleoclimatic and paleontological data relative to the palearctic–paleotropical long distance (LD) migration system. This led to propose a new model for the origin of LD migrations, the ‘shifting home’ model (SHM). It is based on a dynamic perspective of climate evolution and may apply to the origins of most modern migrations. Non-migrant tropical African bird taxa were present at European latitudes during most of the Cenozoic. Their distribution limits shifted progressively toward modern tropical latitudes during periods of global cooling and increasing seasonality. In parallel, decreasing winter temperatures in the western Palearctic drove shifts of population winter ranges toward the equator. I propose that this induced the emergence of most short distance migrations, and in turn LD migrations. This model reconciliates ecologically tropical ancestry of most LD migrants with predominant winter range shifts, in accordance with requirements for heritable homing. In addition, it is more parsimonious than other non-exclusive models. Greater intrinsic plasticity of winter ranges implied by the SHM is supported by recently observed impacts of the present global warming on migrating birds. This may induce particular threats to some LD migrants. The ancestral, breeding homes of LD migrants were not ‘northern’ or ‘southern’ but shifted across high and middle latitudes while migrations emerged through winter range shifts themselves.


Aves Cenozoic Evolution Migration Paleoclimate Seasonality Range shifts