Ecological drivers of global gradients in avian dispersal inferred from wing morphology

Catherine Sheard*, Montague H. C. Neate-Clegg, Nico Alioravainen, Samuel E. I. Jones, Claire Vincent, Hannah E. A. MacGregor, Tom P. Bregman, Santiago Claramunt, Joseph A. Tobias

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

192 Citations (Scopus)
177 Downloads (Pure)


An organism’s ability to disperse influences many fundamental processes, from speciation and geographical range expansion to community assembly. However, the patterns and underlying drivers of variation in dispersal across species remain unclear, partly because standardised estimates of dispersal ability are rarely available. Here we present a global dataset of avian hand-wing index (HWI), an estimate of wing shape widely adopted as a proxy for dispersal ability in birds. We show that HWI is correlated with geography and ecology across 10,338 (>99%) species, increasing at higher latitudes and with migration, and decreasing with territoriality. After controlling for these effects, the strongest predictor of HWI is temperature variability (seasonality), with secondary effects of diet and habitat type. Finally, we also show that HWI is a strong predictor of geographical range size. Our analyses reveal a prominent latitudinal gradient in HWI shaped by a combination of environmental and behavioural factors, and also provide a global index of avian dispersal ability for use in community ecology, macroecology, and macroevolution.
Original languageEnglish
Article number2463 (2020)
Number of pages9
JournalNature Communications
Publication statusPublished - 18 May 2020


  • biogeography
  • macroecology
  • zoology


Dive into the research topics of 'Ecological drivers of global gradients in avian dispersal inferred from wing morphology'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this