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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2020

Evolution of chain migration in an aerial insectivorous bird, the common swift Apus apus

Akesson, Susanne; Atkinson, Phil W.; Bermejo, Ana; de la Puente, Javier; Ferri, Mauro; Hewson, Chris M.; Holmgren, Jan; Kaiser, Erich; Kearsley, Lyndon; Klaassen, Raymond H. G.; Kolunen, Heikki; Matsson, Gittan; Minelli, Fausto; Norevik, Gabriel; Pietiainen, Hannu; Singh, Navinder J.; Spina, Fernando; Viktora, Lukas; Hedenstrom, Anders;


Spectacular long-distance migration has evolved repeatedly in animals enabling exploration of resources separated in time and space. In birds, these patterns are largely driven by seasonality, cost of migration, and asymmetries in competition leading most often to leapfrog migration, where northern breeding populations winter furthest to the south. Here, we show that the highly aerial common swiftApus apus, spending the nonbreeding period on the wing, instead exhibits a rarely found chain migration pattern, where the most southern breeding populations in Europe migrate to wintering areas furthest to the south in Africa, whereas the northern populations winter to the north. The swifts concentrated in three major areas in sub-Saharan Africa during the nonbreeding period, with substantial overlap of nearby breeding populations. We found that the southern breeding swifts were larger, raised more young, and arrived to the wintering areas with higher seasonal variation in greenness (Normalized Difference Vegetation Index) earlier than the northern breeding swifts. This unusual chain migration pattern in common swifts is largely driven by differential annual timing and we suggest it evolves by prior occupancy and dominance by size in the breeding quarters and by prior occupancy combined with diffuse competition in the winter.


Annual timing; chain migration; common swift; diffuse competition; dominance by size; prior occupancy

Published in


2020, volume: 74, number: 10, pages: 2377-2391
Publisher: WILEY

Authors' information

Akesson, Susanne
Lund University
Atkinson, Phil W.
British Trust for Ornithology
Bermejo, Ana
SEO BirdLife
de la Puente, Javier
SEO BirdLife
Ferri, Mauro
Associazione Ornitologi Emilia‐Romagna
Hewson, Chris M.
British Trust for Ornithology (BTO)
Holmgren, Jan
Lund University
Kaiser, Erich
No organisation
Kearsley, Lyndon
No organisation
Klaassen, Raymond H. G.
University of Groningen
Kolunen, Heikki
No organisation
Matsson, Gittan
Falu Kommun
Minelli, Fausto
Parco regionale dei Sassi di Roccamalatina
Norevik, Gabriel
Lund University
Pietiäinen, Hannu
University of Helsinki
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Wildlife, Fish and Environmental Studies
Spina, Fernando
Institute for Environmental Protection and Research (ISPRA)
Viktora, Lukas
Czech Society for Ornithology
Hedenström, Anders
Lund University

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