Heterothermy, body size, and locomotion as ecological predictors of migration in mammals

Quinn M.R. Webber, Liam P. McGuire

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Migration is ubiquitous among animals and has evolved repeatedly and independently. Comparative studies of the evolutionary origins of migration in birds are widespread, but are lacking in mammals. Mammalian species have greater variation in functional traits that may be relevant for migration. Interspecific variation in migration behaviour is often attributed to mode of locomotion (i.e. running, swimming, and flying) and body size, but traits associated with the evolutionary precursor hypothesis, including geographic distribution, habitat, and diet, could also be important predictors of migration in mammals. Furthermore, mammals vary in thermoregulatory strategies and include many heterothermic species, providing an alternative strategy to avoid seasonal resource depletion. We tested the evolutionary precursor hypothesis for the evolution of migration in mammals and tested predictions linking migration to locomotion, body size, geographic distribution, habitat, diet, and thermoregulation. We compiled a dataset of 722 species from 27 mammalian orders and conducted a series of analyses using phylogenetically informed models. Swimming and flying mammals were more likely to migrate than running mammals, and larger species were more likely to migrate than smaller ones. However, heterothermy was common among small running mammals that were unlikely to migrate. High-latitude swimming and flying mammals were more likely to migrate than high-latitude running mammals (where heterothermy was common), and most migratory running mammals were herbivorous. Running mammals and frugivorous bats with high thermoregulatory scope (greater capacity for heterothermy) were less likely to migrate, while insectivorous bats with high thermoregulatory scope were more likely to migrate. Our results indicate a broad range of factors that influence migration, depending on locomotion, body size, and thermoregulation. Our analysis of migration in mammals provided insight into some of the general rules of migration, and we highlight opportunities for future investigations of exceptions to these rules, ultimately leading to a comprehensive understanding of the evolution of migration.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)82-95
Number of pages14
JournalMammal Review
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2022


  • body size
  • evolutionary precursor hypothesis
  • heterothermy
  • hibernation
  • mammals
  • movement ecology
  • thermoregulatory scope.


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