Drivers of animal migration and implications in changing environments

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95 Scopus citations


Migratory species are widespread in terrestrial, aquatic and aerial environments, and are important both ecologically and economically. Since migration is an adaptive response to particular conditions, environmental changes (climate or otherwise) will potentially alter the selective pressures on movement behavior. Such changes may also interfere with, or disrupt, a species’ ability to migrate. In either case, environmental changes could lead to the reduction or total loss of a migration, yet we have little understanding of when to expect these outcomes to occur. Here, I argue that an understanding of both the proximate and ultimate drivers of migration is needed if we are to predict the fate of migrations under changing environmental conditions. I review what is currently known about the drivers of animal migration, but show that we also need a more complete synthesis of migratory patterns across diverse ecosystems and taxonomic groups. The current understanding of migration indicates that (1) drivers of migration vary across species and ecosystems, and (2) a species’ ability to adapt to environmental change successfully depends in part on its migration drivers. Together, these findings suggest a way forward for studying and generating predictions of how changing environmental conditions will differentially impact species by taxonomic group and geographic region of the world.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)991-1007
Number of pages17
JournalEvolutionary Ecology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 1 2016

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
I thank G. Gnanadesikan, A. Smith and D. Stanton for discussion of ideas, and K. Meyer, E. Strombom, L. Sullivan, and two reviewers for comments on previous versions. The general ideas were initially conceived under partial support by the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship under Grant No. DGE-0646086 (at Princeton University), and the manuscript was fully developed under partial support by startup funds from the University of Minnesota.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016, Springer International Publishing Switzerland.


  • Climate change
  • El Niño-Southern Oscillation index
  • Evolution
  • Life history
  • Migration
  • Movement ecology
  • Partial migration


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