Evolutionary causes and consequences of ungulate migration

Joel O. Abraham, Nathan S. Upham, Alejandro Damian-Serrano, Brett R. Jesmer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Ungulate migrations are crucial for maintaining abundant populations and functional ecosystems. However, little is known about how or why migratory behaviour 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 behaviour originating independently in 17 lineages. The evolution of migratory behaviour 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 behaviour supported the evolution of larger bodies, allowing ungulates to exploit new ecological space. Reconstructions of migratory behaviour further revealed that seven of ten recently extinct species were probably migratory, suggesting that contemporary migrations are important models for understanding the ecology of the past.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)998-1006
Number of pages9
JournalNature Ecology and Evolution
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology

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