Temperate origins of long-distance seasonal migration in New World songbirds

Benjamin M. Winger, F. Keith Barker, Richard H. Ree

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

69 Scopus citations


Migratory species exhibit seasonal variation in their geographic ranges, often inhabiting geographically and ecologically distinct breeding and nonbreeding areas. The complicated geography of seasonal migration has long posed a challenge for inferring the geographic origins of migratory species as well as evolutionary sequences of change in migratory behavior. To address this challenge, we developed a phylogenetic model of the joint evolution of breeding and nonbreeding (winter) ranges and applied it to the inference of biogeographic history in the emberizoid passerine birds. We found that seasonal migration between breeding ranges in North America and winter ranges in the Neotropics evolved primarily via shifts of winter ranges toward the tropics from ancestral ranges in North America. This result contrasts with a dominant paradigm that hypothesized migration evolving out of the tropics via shifts of the breeding ranges. We also show that major lineages of tropical, sedentary emberizoids are derived from northern, migratory ancestors. In these lineages, the winter ranges served as a biogeographic conduit for temperate-to-tropical colonization: winter-range shifts toward the tropics during the evolution of long-distance migration often preceded southward shifts of breeding ranges, the loss of migration, and in situ tropical diversification. Meanwhile, the evolution of long-distance migration enabled the persistence of old lineages in North America. These results illuminate how the evolution of seasonal migration has contributed to greater niche conservatism among tropical members of this diverse avian radiation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)12115-12120
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number33
StatePublished - Aug 19 2014


  • Bird migration
  • Dispersal-extinction- cladogenesis
  • Evolution of migration
  • Historical biogeography
  • Tropical niche conservatism


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