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Migration distance is a fundamental axis of the slow-fast continuum of life history in boreal birds

Cite this dataset

Winger, Benjamin; Pegan, Teresa (2021). Migration distance is a fundamental axis of the slow-fast continuum of life history in boreal birds [Dataset]. Dryad.


Seasonal migration is intrinsically connected to the balance of survival and reproduction, but whether migratory behavior influences species’ position on the slow-fast continuum of life history is poorly understood. We found that boreal-breeding birds that migrate long distances exhibit higher annual adult survival and lower annual reproductive investment relative to co-distributed boreal species that migrate shorter distances to winter closer to their breeding grounds. Our study uses “vital rates” data on reproductive output and survivorship compiled from the literature for a species assemblage of 45 species of mostly passerine birds. These species breed sympatrically in North American boreal forests but migrate to a diversity of environments for the northern winter. After controlling for body size and phylogeny, migration distance and apparent annual adult survival are positively related across species. Both migration distance and survival are positively correlated with wintering in environments that are warmer, wetter and greener. At the same time, longer migrations are associated with reduced time spent on the breeding grounds, lower clutch sizes, and lower fecundity (clutch size x maximum number of broods per year). Although seasonal migration is often associated with high mortality, our results suggest that long-distance migration imposes selection pressures that both confer and demand high adult survival rates. That is, owing to the reproductive cost of long-distance migration, this strategy can only persist if balanced by high adult survival. Our study supports the idea that migration evolves to promote survival of species breeding in seasonal environments. In boreal birds, the evolution of the longest migrations yields the highest survival, but at an inherent cost to annual fecundity. Our results therefore reveal migratory distance as a fundamental axis of the slow-fast continuum that predicts, and is inextricable from, the balance of survival and reproduction.


Data were collected and compiled from publically available sources. All data points for all variables used in the analyses and figures in the manuscript are published in Table S1 in the Supplementary Material of the manuscript, available through the publisher's website. The additional data files published in this Dryad archive include upstream and raw data from various sources that were used to compile the downstream variables published in Table S1.

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