Evidence for distinct evolutionary optima in the morphology of migratory and resident species

Seasonal migration is prevalent in approximately one fifth of all bird species. Due to the high energetic costs of migration, consistent morphological patterns can be observed across migratory species. These include longer, more pointed wings and shorter tails in comparison to resident species. While evidence for distinct morphological adaptations of migratory species is well-established, little is known about evolutionary trajectories of these morphological adaptations within groups of related species, and whether the evolution of these traits is consistent across different bird families. Here we apply a macroevolutionary approach to address this knowledge gap by comparing morphological traits and their evolution in migratory and resident species across eight families of passerine birds. We find a significant relationship of wing shape and tail length with migratory distance. When testing the direction of wing shape and tail length evolution in migratory and resident species, we find that a model with two distinct optima for migratory and resident species better explains the evolution of these morphological traits than a model with one evolutionary optimum. Thus, our results suggest consistent selective pressures for morphological traits, which improve the efficiency of long-distance flight in migratory species, as well as empirical evidence for adaptive peaks in the evolution of morphological traits in migratory and resident species. Our data provide a novel insight into the general patterns of morphological trait evolution in birds, thereby expanding the existing knowledge to a macroevolutionary scale in a field that has previously been dominated by species- or genera- specific studies.

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Data and Resources

Additional Info

Field Value
Geographic coverage
Geographic description Global
Bounding coordinates
North: 90.0
West: -180.0
East: 180.0
South: -90.0
Temporal coverage
Timestep November 1, 2014
Taxonomic coverage
Family Cardinalidae
Family Parulidae (Setophaga-Myiothlypis clade)
Family Tyrannidae (Xolmiini clade)
Family Muscicapidae (Oenanthe-Monticola clade)
Family Turdidae (genus Turdus)
Family Hirundinidae
Family Vireonidae
Family Corvidae (genus Corvus)
General taxonomic description The following clades were chosen across the order of passerine birds (Aves: Passeriformes) based on morphological diversity, high phylogenetic resolution, and a similar species richness in each clade: Cardinalidae, Parulidae (Setophaga-Myiothlypis clade), Tyrannidae (Xolmiini clade), Muscicapidae (Oenanthe-Monticola clade), Turdidae (genus Turdus), Hirundinidae, Vireonidae, Corvidae (genus Corvus). Species names follow IOC taxonomy v 5.01.
Other info
Last Updated December 17, 2020, 15:45 (UTC)
Created December 17, 2020, 15:45 (UTC)

Responsible parties

Name Anna Phillips
Organization affiliations
Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre (SBiK-F)


Name Susanne Fritz
Organization affiliations
Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre (SBiK-F)

Senckenberganlage 25
60325 Frankfurt am Main

Associated party
Name Anna Phillips

Associated party
Name Katrin Böhning-Gaese

Associated party
Name Susanne Fritz

Research data management planning

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