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J Anim Ecol. 2009 Mar;78(2):388-95. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2656.2008.01504.x. Epub 2008 Nov 24.

Ecomorphological predictors of natal dispersal distances in birds.

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Institut für Zoologie, Abteilung V, Johannes Gutenberg-Universität, Mainz, Mainz, Germany.


1. Dispersal is one of the key ecological parameters but it is very difficult to quantify directly. As a consequence, empirical studies often ignore dispersal or use indirect measures. 2. Ringing data have previously been used to estimate the natal dispersal distances of 47 British passerine bird species. This provides an excellent opportunity to examine the potential of various indirect measures to predict natal dispersal distances in British birds. 3. We use a phylogenetic comparative framework and single- and multipredictor models including ecomorphological, behavioural or ecological traits to predict natal dispersal distance. 4. A multipredictor model that includes Kipp's distance (a measure of wing tip length), bill depth and tail graduation explains 45% of the interspecific variation in natal dispersal distance. These morphological characters all relate to aerodynamics with stronger flyers dispersing further. 5. However, an index of migration is a strong (but less informative) correlate of dispersal distance and Kipp's distance and bill depth are strong correlates of migration. Thus, we cannot disentangle whether these ecomorphological traits influence dispersal distance directly or whether the relationship between ecomorphology and dispersal is mediated through migratory behaviour. 6. Notwithstanding uncertainties regarding the causal links between dispersal distance and wing morphology, we suggest that two ecomorphological traits, Kipp's distance and bill depth, may provide a useful surrogate.

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