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Evolutionary causes and consequences of ungulate migration

Cite this dataset

Abraham, Joel; Upham, Nathan; Damian-Serrano, Alejandro; Jesmer, Brett (2022). Evolutionary causes and consequences of ungulate migration [Dataset]. Dryad.


Ungulate migrations are crucial for maintaining abundant populations and functional ecosystems. However, little is known about how or why migratory behavior evolved in ungulates. To investigate the evolutionary origins of ungulate migration, we employed phylogenetic path analysis using a comprehensive species-level phylogeny of mammals. We found that 95 of 207 extant ungulate species are at least partially migratory, with migratory behavior originating independently in 17 lineages. The evolution of migratory behavior is associated with reliance on grass forage and living at higher latitudes wherein seasonal resource waves are most prevalent. Indeed, originations coincide with mid-Miocene cooling and the subsequent rise of C4 grasslands. Also, evolving migratory behavior supported the evolution of larger bodies, allowing ungulates to exploit novel ecological space. Reconstructions of migratory behavior further reveal that seven of ten recently extinct species were probably migratory, suggesting that contemporary migrations are important models for understanding the ecology of the past.


Data were collected via targeted literature search and/or were generated from IUCN species range maps and the Global Inventory Modelling and Mapping Studies database (GIMMS) Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) remote sensing product.

Usage notes

Please consult the correpsonding README file for information on data sources and variable meanings.


National Science Foundation, Award: GRFP 2019256075

National Science Foundation, Award: DEB 1441737

Arizona State University President’s Special Initiative Fund