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Am Nat. 2004 Nov;164(5):660-9. Epub 2004 Sep 29.

Genetic and environmental influences on natal dispersal distance in a resident bird species.

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  • 1Zoologisches Institut der Universit├Ąt Z├╝rich, Abteilung Oekologie, Switzerland.


We analyzed more than 1,600 dispersal events from two populations of a North American cooperatively breeding woodpecker species to determine what factors influence natal dispersal distance and whether distance traveled affects reproduction later in life. We found significant heritability of natal dispersal distance, in both males and females, indicating substantial additive genetic variance for this behavioral trait. Natal dispersal distance additionally was affected by social and ecological factors: individuals dispersing in their first year of life moved longer distances than those staying on their natal site as helpers for a prolonged time prior to dispersal, and increasing territory isolation led to longer dispersal distances. Successful dispersers incurred fitness costs, with lifetime fledgling production (in both sexes) and lifetime production of recruits to the breeding population (in females only) decreasing with increasing natal dispersal distance. We conclude that natal dispersal distance has a genetic basis but is modulated by environmental and social factors and that natal dispersal distance in this species is (currently) under selection.

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