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Anim Behav. 1998 Dec;56(6):1355-1366.

Causes and consequences of natal dispersal in root voles, Microtus oeconomus.

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Department of Biology, Division of Zoology, University of Oslo


To test the causes and consequences of variation in natal dispersal in root voles we released 53 matrilines (mothers with newly weaned litters) separately in field enclosures, during nine consecutive periods. The matrilines could disperse and distribute themselves among three pre-emptied habitat patches. Two dispersal measures were recorded: short-distance dispersal defined as individuals immigrating to a neighbouring patch, and long-distance dispersal defined as unsettled individuals captured along the fence of the enclosures. We analysed the role of social factors (i.e. maternal and litter characteristics), habitat quality (i.e. seasonal effect) and experimentally manipulated shape of the natal patch in dispersal. The consequences of dispersal were analysed with respect to the spatial distribution of kin, and to pregnancy in females and sexual maturation in males. Dispersal was unrelated to patch shape. In agreement with the inbreeding avoidance hypothesis, long-distance dispersal was male biased and philopatric males were most frequently reproductively inactive. Whilst young males avoided their mother, they seemed to disperse, settle and mature sexually independently of their sisters. In agreement with the resource competition hypothesis, young females avoided their mother and were most frequently reproductively inactive when residing in their mother's patch. We conclude that inbreeding avoidance was underlying the male dispersal pattern. For females, long-distance dispersal was most in agreement with the inbreeding avoidance hypothesis while short-distance dispersal could be explained by the resource competition hypothesis. (c) 1998 The Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour.

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