Animal migration: is there a common migratory syndrome?

Abstract

Ornithologists, and especially northern hemisphere ornithologists, have traditionally thought of migration as an annual return movement of populations between regular breeding and non-breeding grounds. Problems arise because selection does not ordinarily act on populations and because organisms of many taxa (including birds) are clearly migrants, but fail to undertake movements of the kind described. There are also extensive return movements that are not migratory. I propose that it is more useful to think of migration as a syndrome of behavioral and other traits that function together within individuals, and that such a syndrome provides a common ground across taxa from aphids to albatrosses. Large-scale return movements of populations are one outcome of the syndrome. Similar behavioral and physiological traits serve both to define migration and to provide a test for it. I use two insect (Hemipteran) examples to illustrate migratory syndromes and to demonstrate that, in many migrants, behavior and physiology correlate with life history and morphological traits to form syndromes at two levels. I then compare the two Hemipterans with migration in birds, butterflies, and fish to assess the question of whether there are migratory syndromes in common between these diverse migrants. Syndromes are more similar at the level of behavior than when morphology and life history traits are included. Recognizing syndromes leads to important evolutionary questions concerning migration strategies, trade-offs, the maintenance of genetic variance and the responses of migratory syndromes to both similar and different selective regimes.

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Acknowledgments

This paper is based on a plenary talk at the European Science Foundation conference on ‘Migration in the life-history of birds’ in Wilhelmshaven, Germany in February 2005. I am grateful to Franz Bairlein for the invitation to speak and to the ESF for travel support to attend. Scott Carroll provided much background information and valuable discussion on soapberry bugs and read the first draft of the manuscript. Thoughtful and detailed comments by Alistair Drake did much to clarify and improve the final version. My own research on migration has been supported by the US National Science Foundation and by an Alexander v. Humboldt Senior Scientist Award at the Vogelwarte Radolfzell hosted by Peter Berthold.

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Correspondence to Hugh Dingle.

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Communicated by F. Bairlein

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Dingle, H. Animal migration: is there a common migratory syndrome?. J Ornithol 147, 212–220 (2006). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10336-005-0052-2

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Keywords

  • Behavior
  • Evolution
  • Life histories
  • Migration
  • Syndromes