The genetics and epigenetics of animal migration and orientation: birds, butterflies and beyond Academic Article uri icon


  • Migration is a complex behavioural adaptation for survival that has evolved across the animal kingdom from invertebrates to mammals. In some taxa, closely related migratory species, or even populations of the same species, exhibit different migratory phenotypes, including timing and orientation of migration. In these species, a significant proportion of the phenotypic variance in migratory traits is genetic. In others, the migratory phenotype and direction is triggered by seasonal changes in the environment, suggesting an epigenetic control of their migration. The genes and epigenetic changes underpinning migratory behaviour remain largely unknown. The revolution in (epi)genomics and functional genomic tools holds great promise to rapidly move the field of migration genetics forward. Here, we review our current understanding of the genetic and epigenetic architecture of migratory traits, focusing on two emerging models: the European blackcap and the North American monarch butterfly. We also outline a vision of how technical advances and integrative approaches could be employed to identify and functionally validate candidate genes and cis-regulatory elements on these and other migratory species across both small and broad phylogenetic scales to significantly advance the field of genetics of animal migration.

altmetric score

  • 9.85

author list (cited authors)

  • Merlin, C., Liedvogel, M., Jundi, B. E., Kelber, A., & Webb, B.

citation count

  • 35

publication date

  • February 2019