A physiological perspective on the ecology and evolution of partial migration

Arne Hegemann, Adam M. Fudickar, Jan Åke Nilsson

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Billions of animals migrate between breeding and non-breeding areas worldwide. Partial migration, where both migrants and residents coexist within a population, occurs in most animal taxa, including fish, insects, birds and mammals. Partial migration has been hypothesised to be the most common form of migration and to be an evolutionary precursor to full migration. Despite extensive theoretical models about partial migration and its potential to provide insight into the ecology and evolution of migration, the physiological mechanisms that shape partial migration remain poorly understood. Here, we review current knowledge on how physiological processes mediate the causes and consequences of avian partial migration, and how they may help us understand why some individuals migrate and others remain resident. When information from birds is missing, we highlight examples from other taxa. In particular, we focus on temperature regulation, metabolic rate, immune function, oxidative stress, telomeres, and neuroendocrine and endocrine systems. We argue that these traits provide physiological pathways that regulate the ecological and behavioural causes and/or consequences of partial migration, and may provide insight into the mechanistic basis of wintering decisions. They may, thus, also help us to explain why individuals switch strategies among winters. We also highlight current gaps in our knowledge and suggest promising future research opportunities. A deeper understanding of the physiological mechanisms mediating the causes and consequences of partial migration will not only provide novel insights into the ecology and evolution of migration in general, but will also be vital to precisely modelling population trends and predicting range shifts under global change.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)893-905
JournalJournal of Ornithology
Issue number3
Early online date2019 Mar 19
Publication statusPublished - 2019

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Evolutionary Biology

Free keywords

  • Avian life history
  • Ecoimmunology
  • Ecophysiology
  • Hormones
  • Metabolism
  • Movement ecology


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