Heterothermic Migration Strategies in Flying Vertebrates: Article No. icad053

Liam McGuire, Ryan Leys, Quinn Webber, Jeff Clerc

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus Citations


Migration is a widespread and highly variable trait among animals. Population-level patterns arise from individual-level decisions, including physiological and energetic constraints. Many aspects of migration are influenced by behaviors and strategies employed during periods of stopover, where migrants may encounter variable or unpredictable conditions. Thermoregulation can be a major cost for homeotherms which largely encounter ambient temperatures below the lower critical temperature during migration, especially during the rest phase of the daily cycle. In this review we describe the empirical evidence, theoretical models, and potential implications of bats and birds that use heterothermy to reduce thermoregulatory costs during migration. Torpor-assisted migration is a strategy described for migrating temperate insectivorous bats, whereby torpor can be used during periods of inactivity to drastically reduce thermoregulatory costs and increase net refueling rate, leading to shorter stopover duration, reduced fuel load requirement, and potential consequences for broad-scale movement patterns and survival. Hummingbirds can adopt a similar strategy, but most birds are not capable of torpor. However, there is an increasing recognition of the use of more shallow heterothermic strategies by diverse bird species during migration, with similarly important implications for migration energetics. A growing body of published literature and preliminary data from ongoing research indicate that heterothermic migration strategies in birds may be more common than traditionally appreciated. We further take a broad evolutionary perspective to consider heterothermy as an alternative to migration in some species, or as a conceptual link to consider alternatives to seasonal resource limitations. There is a growing body of evidence related to heterothermic migration strategies in bats and birds, but many important questions related to the broader implications of this strategy remain.
Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)1060-1074
Number of pages15
JournalIntegrative and Comparative Biology
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2023

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-5000-86229


  • bats
  • birds
  • heterothermy
  • migration
  • thermoregulation
  • torpor


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