Life history predicts advancement of avian spring migration in response to climate change

Zsolt Végvári, Veronika Bókony, Zoltán Barta, Gábor Kovács

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An increasing number of studies demonstrate that plant and animal phenologies such as the timing of bird migration have been advancing over the globe, likely as a result of climate change. Even closely related species differ in their phenological responses, and the sources of this variation are poorly established. We used a large, standardized dataset of first arrival dates (FAD) of migratory birds to test the effects of phylogenetic relationships and various life-history and ecological traits on the degree to which different species adapt to climate change by earlier migration in spring. Using the phylogenetic comparative method, we found that the advancement of FAD was greater in species with more generalized diet, shorter migration distance, more broods per year, and less extensive prebreeding molt. In turn, we found little evidence that FAD trends were influenced by competition for mating (polygamy or extra-pair paternity) and breeding opportunities (cavity nests). Our findings were robust to several potentially confounding effects. These evolutionary correlations, coupled with the low levels of phylogenetic dependence we found, indicate that avian migration phenology adapts to climate change as a species-specific response. Our results suggest that the degree of this response is fundamentally shaped by constraints and selection pressures of the species' life history, and less so by the intensity of sexual selection.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalGlobal change biology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2010



  • Bird migration
  • Climatic change
  • Hortobágy
  • Phylogenetic comparative method

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Ecology
  • Environmental Science(all)

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