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Migration of Barn swallows

Inferring the genetic and epigenetic basis of the long-distance migration of European Barn swallows

Long-distance migrating European Barn swallows spend the northern winter in Africa south of the Sahara Desert. Depending on the population from which they originate, individuals employ various migration routes to reach their wintering quarters in different parts of Africa. We use light-level geolocators to map variation of migration routes, timing and wintering grounds of Barn swallows breeding in Switzerland, Northern Germany and Finland. The information about individual migration phenotypes in turn forms the foundation for this study on the genetic and epigenetic basis of the birds’ migration behaviour.

Domain Research
Unit Bird Migration
Topic Evolution, Migratory Birds
Habitat alpine habitats, farmland, forest, meadows and pastures, rivers & streams, rocky terrain, semi-open farmland, settlements, wasteland, wetlands
Project start 2018
Project status ongoing
Project management Jan von Rönn
Project region Lucerne, Africa, Europe


Project objectives

In this study, we strive to identify areas of the European Barn swallow genome, e.g./i.e. ultimately variations of genes, which are associated with their migration behaviour. Additionally, we employ a very similar approach to identify areas in the Barn swallow genome which are associated with migration phenotypes due to their pattern of cytosine-methylation, as a measure of epigenetics, affecting gene function without sequence changes in the DNA.


We use light-level geolocators to track migration routes, timing and wintering areas of Barn swallows breeding in Switzerland, northern Germany and Finland. Using these tracking data we characterize individual migration phenotypes which we contrast in subsequent genome wide or epigenome-wide association studies (GWAS, EWAS) to look for areas of the genome (ultimately, genes) associated with specific migration phenotypes.

Project partner(s)



Species concerned

Bird species
Barn Swallow
The proverb “One swallow doesn’t make a summer” reflects the observation that individual Barn Swallows already return from their African wintering places as from mid-March. They only start to arrive in larger numbers as from mid-April, when summer is just around the corner. For many centuries, th...
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Bird Migration

We research migratory birds from their breeding grounds to Africa and lay the foundations for their protection beyond national borders.

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