, Volume 95, Issue 12, pp 1109–1119 | Cite as

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

  • Antoine Louchart


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 



I thank all members of the Mission Paléoanthropologique Franco-Tchadienne (MPFT), and the NSF-funded Revealing Hominid Origins Initiative (RHOI), for support. I am also most grateful to J.-R. Boisserie, M. Brunet, P. Vignaud and T. D. White, as well as J. Carrier, S. Mailliot and C. Mourer-Chauviré for support, help and discussions, and to V. Salewski and two other referees for comments which improved the manuscript. Finally, I am grateful to the late F. C. Howell who communicated to me in September 2002 the notes of D. G. Matthiesen about Olduvai birds.

Supplementary material

114_2008_435_MOESM1_ESM.doc (519 kb)
Table S1 Earliest fossil occurrences in the western Palearctic of modern bird families that comprise today both non-migrating species or populations and LD temperate-tropical migrating species or populations (519 kb).
114_2008_435_MOESM2_ESM.doc (590 kb)
Table S2 Low atmosphere paleoclimatic data (WMM, CMM, MAP) for different periods and localities spanning different latitudes of northern, central and western Europe and Africa north of the equator in the Cenozoic (589 kb).
114_2008_435_MOESM3_ESM.doc (270 kb)
Table S3 Latitudinal interval of the average position of the three selected limits of tropical climatic conditions through the Cenozoic in Europe and Africa north of the equator (270 KB).
114_2008_435_Fig1_ESM.gif (94 kb)
Figure S4

Constraining envelopes for the latitudinal Cenozoic evolution of the limits of tropical conditions of MAP (a), WMM (b) and CMM (c) derived from the data in the Table S3, and approximate respective trends (94 kb)

114_2008_435_Fig1_ESM.eps (1.7 mb)
High resolution image file (EPS 1.68 mb)
114_2008_435_Fig2_ESM.gif (53 kb)
Figure S5

Cenozoic trends for the latitude of limits of humid tropical MAP, WMM and CMM in Europe and the northern part of Africa. Derived from Fig. S4 (53.1 kb).

114_2008_435_Fig2_ESM.eps (1.2 mb)
High resolution image file (EPS 1.19 mb)
114_2008_435_MOESM8_ESM.doc (822 kb)
Table S6 Synthesis of fossil occurrences in the Cenozoic of Europe and Africa north of the equator, of taxa (orders to genera) that comprise only non-migrant species restricted to the Paleotropical province, the Old World tropics, or the Pantropical area in Africa, i.e. non migrants in the tropics or subtropics of sub-Saharan Africa (822 kb).
114_2008_435_MOESM9_ESM.doc (518 kb)
Table S7 Recent shifts observed in breeding and wintering ranges of migrating birds in Europe (and some in northern America) linked at least in part to the global climate warming (517 kb).


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.La Font MignotChuyerFrance
  2. 2.IPHEP – Institut de Paléoprimatologie et Paléontologie humaine: Evolution et Paléoenvironnements, CNRS UMR 6046, UFR-SFAUniversité de PoitiersPoitiers CedexFrance

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