Explaining global bird migration from first principles and reconstructing its evolution over the last 50,000 years

Dr Marius Somveille1, Dr  Ana Rodrigues2, Prof Walter Jetz3, Prof Martin Wikelski4, Prof Andrea Manica5

1Birdlife International, Cambridge, United Kingdom, 2CNRS Center for Functional and Evolutionary Ecology, Montpellier, France, 3Max Planck Yale Center for Biodiversity Movement and Global Change, Yale University, New Haven, United States, 4Max Planck Institute for Ornithology, Radolfzell, Germany, 5University of Cambridge, Cambridge, United Kingdom

Nearly 20% of bird species are migratory, their seasonal movements causing a redistribution of bird diversity that radically changes avian community composition worldwide. This talk will present a global macroecological analysis of bird migration. Mapping patterns of the distribution of migratory birds across the world showed that, despite their great biological and ecological diversity, strong spatial patterns emerge when all migratory species are pooled together, indicating the potential for general underlying mechanisms. Statistical analyses showed that underneath their great variability in seasonal destinations, migratory birds appear to follow a common strategy of tracking their climatic niche year-round, within a broader trade-off between the costs of migration and the benefits of better access to resources. Based on these results, we developed a mechanistic model of bird distributions across the world and across seasons, which predicts very well empirical spatial patterns of migratory bird diversity. It indicates that bird species’ seasonal grounds optimise the balance between energy acquisition and energy expenditure while taking into account inter-specific competition. This model provides a new tool for predictions under global change, and we used it to reconstruct the global seasonal distribution of birds back to the last glacial period (from present to 50,000 BP). In particular, the model predicts an important asymmetry between the Americas and the Old World in how bird migration responded to the last glaciation event.


I am a postdoctoral researcher at BirdLife International. My broad research interests lie in understanding the processes shaping how biodiversity distributes on Earth and predicting how species respond to global change, particularly focusing on migratory species. Prior to my current position, I did my PhD at the University of Cambridge, followed by postdoctoral positions at Oxford University and Yale University (Max Planck Yale Center for Biodiversity Movement and Global Change).

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