Adaptation to climate change through seasonal migration revealed by climatic versus demographic niche models

Katherine Carbeck* (Corresponding Author), Tongli Wang, Jane Reid, Peter Arcese

*Corresponding author for this work

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2 Citations (Scopus)
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Predicting the geographic range of species and their response to climatic variation and change are entwined goals in conservation and evolutionary ecology. Species distribution models (SDMs) are foundational in this effort and used to visualize the geographic range of species as the spatial representation of its realized niche. SDMs are also used to forecast range shifts under climate change, but often in the absence of empirical evidence that climate limits population growth. We explored the influence of climate on demography, seasonal migration, and the extent of the geographic range in song sparrows (Melospiza melodia), a species thought to display marked local adaptation to regional climate. To do so, we developed SDMs to predict the demographic and climate niches of migratory and resident song sparrows across our study area in western North America from California to Alaska, using 48 years of demographic data from a focal population in British Columbia and 1.2 million continental-scale citizen science observations. Spatial agreement of our demographic and climate niche models in the region of our focal population was strong (76%), supporting the hypothesis that demographic performance and the occurrence of seasonal migration varied predictably with climatic conditions. In contrast, agreement at the northern (58%) and southern (40%) extents of our study area was lower, as expected if the factors limiting population growth vary regionally. Our results support the hypothesis that local climate drives spatial variation in the occurrence of seasonal migration in song sparrows by limiting the fitness of year-round residents, and suggest that climate warming has favored range expansions and facilitated an upward shift in elevational range song sparrows that forgo seasonal migration. Our work highlights the potential role of seasonal migration in climate adaptation and limits on the reliability of climate niche models not validated with demographic data.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4260-4275
Number of pages16
JournalGlobal Change Biology
Issue number14
Early online date13 Apr 2022
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2022

Bibliographical note

Acknowledgements: We are deeply grateful to the Tswaout and Tseycum First Nations for allowing us to work on X̱ O ̧X̱ DEȽ (Mandarte Island) and to the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, University of British Columbia, FRBC Chair in Conservation, Hesse Graduate fellowship, and Norwegian Research Council and NTNU Centre for Biodiversity Dynamics (SFF-III 223257) for recent and long-term support.

Data Availability Statement

The data that support the findings of this study are available in the Zenodo digital repository: Occurrence and climate data used in this study were derived from are publicly available resources: eBird ( and Climate (


  • migratory behavior
  • climate adaptation
  • species distribution model
  • climate niche
  • demographic niche
  • population growth
  • Melospiza melodia


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