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Temporal shifts and temperature sensitivity of avian spring migratory phenology: A phylogenetic meta-analysis

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    Rights statement: © 2016 The Authors. Journal of Animal Ecology published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of British Ecological Society.This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License,which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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Original languageEnglish
Number of pages38
JournalJournal of Animal Ecology
Early online date18 Nov 2016
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2017


There are wide reports of advances in the timing of spring migration of birds over time and in relation to rising temperatures, though phenological responses vary substantially within and among species. An understanding of the ecological, life-history and geographic variables that predict this intra- and inter-specific variation can guide our projections of how populations and species are likely to respond to future climate change.

Here, we conduct phylogenetic meta-analyses addressing slope estimates of the timing of avian spring migration regressed on (i) year and (ii) temperature, representing a total of 413 species across five continents. We take into account slope estimation error and examine phylogenetic, ecological and geographic predictors of intra- and inter-specific variation.

We confirm earlier findings that on average birds have significantly advanced their spring migration time by 2.1 days decade-1 and 1.2 days ºC-1. We find that over time and in response to warmer spring conditions short-distance migrants have advanced spring migratory phenology by more than long-distance migrants. We also find that larger bodied species show greater advance over time compared to smaller bodied species. Our results did not reveal any evidence that interspecific variation in migration response is predictable on the basis of species’ habitat or diet.

We detected a substantial phylogenetic signal in migration time in response to both year and temperature, suggesting that some of the shifts in migratory phenological response to climate are predictable on the basis of phylogeny. However, we estimate high levels of species and spatial variance relative to phylogenetic variance, which is consistent with plasticity in response to climate evolving fairly rapidly and being more influenced by adaptation to current local climate than by common descent.

On average, avian spring migration times have advanced over time and as spring has become warmer. While we are able to identify predictors that explain some of the true among-species variation in response, substantial intra- and inter-specific variation in migratory response remains to be explained.

    Research areas

  • Arrival date plasticity, bird migration timing, climate change, migratory phenology, plasticity

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