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Altitudinal migration

altitudinal migration of birds, altitudinal migration
Altitudinal migration is a short-distance animal migration from lower altitudes to higher altitudes and back It is commonly thought to happen in response to climate and food availability changes as well as increasingly due to anthropogenic influence These migrations can occur both during reproductive and non-reproductive seasons Altitudinal avian migration is common, and can also be found in other vertebrates, and can be seen in some invertebrates

Typical characteristics of tropical altitudinal migrants include: a high rate of frugivory or nectarvory; movement between lower elevation areas during non-breeding seasons and higher elevation areas during breeding seasons, or on a consistent annual or seasonal cycle; at least part of the population being migratory with a possible portion of the population residing at breeding sites year-round This last characteristic can be sex-biased, as it is with juncos, in which the males are less likely to migrate than the females The white-ruffed manakin provides a good example of an altitudinal migrant by displaying all of these traits It has a high rate of frugivory, migrates from lower elevations to higher elevations on a predictable breeding-season based cycle, and part of the population is migratory, with a small portion possibly remaining at the breeding sites year-round


  • 1 Regions
    • 11 Tropics
    • 12 Temperates
  • 2 Causes
    • 21 Food abundance and nutrition
    • 22 Reproduction
    • 23 Nest predation
    • 24 Anthropogenic
  • 3 Conservation implications
    • 31 Climate change
    • 32 Migrational corridors
    • 33 Seed dispersal
  • 4 See also
  • 5 References


There are many documented examples of migratory range shifts along an elevation gradient among temperate species While these migrations are more understood in temperate regions, and far less understood among tropical ecosystems and species, there are documented cases Altitudinal migration is typically seen among taxa found in montane areas Generally, as elevation increases, the species richness decreases


The white-ruffed manakin Corapipo altera is a well known altitudinal migrant Third year male left and After Third Year male right

In the tropics, altitudinal migrations are most commonly seen among frugivores or nectarvores, such as what is seen among tropical hummingbirds, which migrate altitudinally in response to shifts in food abundance and availability This migration pattern has been observed in neotropical birds, but has also been seen in other terrestrial, tropical montane species such as Baird's tapir and white-lipped peccary

Tropical avian species that are altitudinal migrants include the white-ruffed manakin, resplendent quetzal, at least 16 species of raptor, and many species of hummingbird

Altitudinal migration has also been witnessed in some tropical bat species As of 2014, there is not much information as to why tropical species migrate altitudinally, other than that it may be for food resources or reproduction, as it is for temperate bat species


While less common in avian species in the temperate regions, altitudinal migration still plays a part in migration patterns in montane zones and is seen in most ungulates in the Rocky Mountains Avian temperate species that migrate altitudinally include mountain chickadee, and the American dipper

Ungulates that have been observed to migrate altitudinally include roe deer, bighorn sheep, and mountain goats

Temperate bat species are also altitudinal migrants Their migratory patterns are sex-biased altitudinal migrations, with females inhabiting lower elevations during reproductive periods


Altitudinal migration, as a short-distance migration pattern, has been easier to trace than long-distance patterns Still, while the proximate causes and physiological adaptations for migrations are well-understood, determining the ultimate causes have been difficult This difficulty has been linked to limited success of mark and recapture techniques used to track migratory species There are many hypotheses for why altitudinal migration may occur, including correlations between food abundance and nutrition-the need to migrate in order to meet specific needs associated with varying abundance and nutrition; reproduction-breeding sites being at elevations different than those of non-breeding sites; anthropogenic-species being increasingly driven to higher altitudes due to human actions

Food abundance and nutrition

Migration in response to food abundance has been the most accepted hypothesis for why species migrate altitudinally This hypothesis states that peaks in food abundance along an elevational gradient, such as the slope of a mountain, drive migration patterns as species exploit available food resources Peaks in food abundance along this gradient often coincide with the breeding season Some frugivorous birds, such as white-ruffed manakins Corapipo altera migrate to higher elevations to exploit peaks in fruit abundance Evidence supports the possibility that migrants have a competitive advantage compared to non-migrant sedentary species, due to increased foraging ability over a larger area, resulting in greater food and nutrient uptake It’s been shown that diet differs between non-migratory and migratory species in large-scale analyses and species-pair comparisons of frugivorous tropical birds

While this hypothesis is supported, and has been the most accepted, it fails to explain why altitudinal migrants return to lower elevations, or if it is done in response to shifting food resources It has been proposed that weather-related resource availability may trigger the elevational migration of some species, such as the white-ruffed manakin during storms


In male white-ruffed manakins, migratory behavior has shown to lessen social status and mating success at leks the following breeding season

Most hummingbird species at Monteverde increase altitude during the wet season in order to breed

Of the 16 species of neotropical raptors, including the Andean condor Vultur gryphus, who are known altitudinal migrants, most breed in the high Andes and migrate to lowland areas during non-breeding seasons

Nest predation

Studies have shown a decreased risk of nest predation at higher altitudes, which may explain the seasonal breeding season—non-breeding season altitudinal migration of some passerine birds An experiment using 385 nests at varying locations on the Atlantic slope of Costa Rica showed decreased predation at increasing altitudes, with predation highest at intermediate altitudes This hypothesis proposes that altitudinal migration may have evolved among some species as a response to nest predation, as a way lower the risk Studies have also shown that elevation of home range influences breeding time


The walia ibex Capra walie has increasingly been driven to higher altitudes in Ethiopian mountain ranges This has occurred because of human activity impacting their native range, including war, expanding human settlement, and cultivation

Conservation implications

Climate change

Climate change could be causing migration patterns to shift into an earlier time frame, coinciding with an earlier start of the growing period This means that migratory species may leave lower altitudes for higher-altitude breeding sites while those breeding sites still lack the necessary resources Some species that have shorter migratory paths may be able to return to the lower elevations and wait, but run the risk of running out of the resources in that lower altitude, such as food and cover, that may only be available for a short, set period of time

Over 30% of birds and other species in montane forests show altitudinal migration patterns Because of this, changes in climate and seasonality decrease or increase would affect a large portion of tropical species and have the potential to cause a trophic cascade on the community-level

Furthermore, climate change may cause seasonal storms and rainfall patterns to change, shifting the timing and/or need for altitudinal migration in the future by shifting availability of resources, which is believed to be a driving cause of altitudinal migration

The upward shift of species caused by climate change also holds the potential to cause both mountaintop extinction and lowland biotic attrition This is because the lowland tropics lack species that can cope with increasing temperatures An overall loss of species richness can occur due to there being fewer migratory species to replace lost ones

This has been seen occurring by looking at the average time of arrival and departure at high altitude areas for the American robin Turdus migratorius The average time interval has shifted by as much as two weeks due to the change in seasonal patterns of resource abundance and temperature

Migrational corridors

Migrational corridors, connecting lowland and montane habitats are essential for the upkeep and survival of migratory species Some species can cross cleared lands, suchs as pastures, but many require closed forest areas, such as what is provided by these migrational corridors

Seed dispersal

Tropical frugivorous birds have complex elevational migrations and are responsible for the dispersal of many species of seeds across the different Holdridge life zones and transitional regions, causing wide dispersal of plant species and significant ecological linkage A change in migration patterns can cause a decrease in the efficiency, and ability of these species as seed dispersal agents

See also

  • Transhumance-the seasonal movement of people and livestock between winter and summer pasture


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Boyle, Alice W; Conway, Courtney J; Bronstein, Judith L 13 July 2013 "Why do some, but not all, tropical birds migrate A comparative study of diet breadth and fruit preference" Evolutionary Ecology 25: 219–236 doi:101007/s10682-010-9403-4 
  2. ^ a b c d Boyle, Alice W; Norris, Ryan D; Guglielmo, Christopher G 2010 "Storms drive altitudinal migration in a tropical bird" Proc R Soc B 277: 2511–2519 doi:101098/rspb20100344 
  3. ^ a b c d e Hobson, Keith A; Wassenaar, Len I; Milá, Borja; Lovette, Irby; Dingle, Caroline; Smith, Thomas B 20 May 2003 "Stable isotopes as indicators of altitudinal distributions and movements in an Ecuadorean hummingbird community" Community Ecology 136: 302–308 doi:101007/s00442-003-1271-y Retrieved December 2, 2014 
  4. ^ a b Fothergill, Alastair 2006 Planet Earth: The Future-Saving Species BBC Natural History Unit 
  5. ^ Park, Chris 2007 A Dictionary of Environment and Conservation University of Florida: Oxford University Press ISBN 9780198609957 Retrieved December 2, 2014 subscription required help 
  6. ^ a b c McGuire, Liam P; Boyle, Alice W 11 March 2013 "Altitudinal migration in bats: evidence, patterns, and drivers" Biological Reviews 88 4: 767–786 doi:101111/brv12024 Retrieved December 2, 2014 
  7. ^ a b Boyle, Alice W 24 July 2008 "Partial migration in birds: tests of three hypotheses in a tropical lekking frugivore" Journal of Animal Ecology 77 6: 1122–1128 doi:101111/j1365-2656200801451x 
  8. ^ Lovejoy, Thomas E; Lee, Hannah 2005 Climate Change and Biodiversity 1 ed New Haven: Yale UP ISBN 0300119801 
  9. ^ Thiollay, Jean-Marc July 1996 "Distributional patterns of raptors along altitudinal gradients in the northern Andes and effects of forest fragmentation" Journal of Tropical Ecology 12 4: 535–560 doi:101017/s0266467400009767 
  10. ^ a b Bildstein, Keith L 2004 "Raptor migration in the neotropics: patterns, processes, and consequences" PDF Ornitologia Neotropical 15 Supplement: 83–99 Retrieved July 21, 2015 
  11. ^ Festa-Bianchet, M 1988 "Seasonal Range Selection in Bighorn Sheep: Conflicts between Forage Quality, Forage Quantitiy, and Predator Avoidance" Oecologia 75 4: 580–586 doi:101007/BF00776423 
  12. ^ Fraser, Kevin C; Kyser, T Kurt; Ratcliffe, Laurene M May 2008 "Detecting Altitudinal Migration Events in Neotropical Birds using Stable Isotopes" Biotropica: The Journalof Tropical Biology and Conservation 40 3: 269–272 doi:101111/j1744-7429200800408x 
  13. ^ a b c Boyle, Alice W 3 February 2010 "Does food abundance explain altitudinal migration in a tropical frugivorous bird" Canadian Journal of Zoology 88 2: 204–213 doi:101139/Z09-133 
  14. ^ Boyle, Alice W; Guglielmo, Christopher G; Hobson, Keith A; Norris, D Ryan November 2014 "Lekking birds in a tropical forest forego sex for migration" Biology Letters 10 11 doi:101098/rsbl100115 Retrieved December 2, 2014 
  15. ^ a b Colwell, Robert K; Brehm, Gunnar; Cardelús, Catherine L; Gilman, Alex C; Longino, John T 10 October 2008 "Global Warming, Elevational Rage Shifts, and Lowland Biotic Attrition in the Wet Tropics" Science 322 5899: 258–261 doi:101126/science1162547 Retrieved December 2, 2014 
  16. ^ Boyle, Alice W 10 January 2008 "Can variation in the risk of nest predation explain altitudinal migration in tropical birds" Oecologia 155: 397–403 doi:101007/s00442-007-0897-6 
  17. ^ a b c Inouye, David W; Barr, Billy; Armitage, Kenneth B; Inouye, Brian D 15 February 2000 "Climate change is affecting altitudinal migrants and hibernating species" PNAS 97 4: 1630–1633 doi:101073/pnas9741630 
  18. ^ Butler, Christopher J 4 July 2003 "The disproportionate effect of global warming on the arrival dates of short-distance migratory birds in North America" IBIS: International Journal of Avian Science 145 3: 484–495 doi:101046/j1474-919X200300193 
  19. ^ Loiselle, Bette A; Blake, John G 1 February 1991 "Temporal Variation in Birds and Fruits Along an Elevational Gradient in Costa Rica" Ecology 72 1: 180–193 doi:102307/1938913 
  20. ^ Loiselle, Bette A; Blake, John G December 1992 "Population Variation in a Tropical Bird Community" Biosciene 42 11: 838–845 doi:102307/1312083 
  21. ^ Nadkarni, Nalini; Wheelwright, Nathaniel T 2000 Monteverde: Ecology and Conservation of a Tropical Cloud Forest 1 ed New York: Oxford UP ISBN 0-19-509560-X 

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