Social and environmental factors affect natal dispersal and philopatry of male red-cockaded woodpeckers
Walters, J. R.
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Natal dispersal behavior can vary considerably among individuals, but the causes intraspecific plasticity in dispersal are poorly understood. We tested six hypotheses about social and environmental conditions that might influence natal dispersal of males in the cooperatively breeding Red-cockaded Woodpecker (Picoides borealis). Further, we examined whether variation in dispersal behavior is heritable. Dispersing from the natal territory during the first year rather than remaining as a helper was associated with four factors. First, dispersing male fledglings were, on average, significantly lower in body mass than their philopatric siblings, indicating an influence of social dominance on dispersal. Second, individuals were more likely to disperse from territories with many male fledglings, independent of the number of adult male helpers per territory, suggesting that sibling (rather than helper-offspring) competition for future reproduction may be the underlying mechanism. Third, the probability of remaining as a helper rather than dispersing was positively associated with quality of the natal territory and with the number of high-quality territories close to the natal site. This suggests an influence of the benefits of philopatry, because many males that initially remain as helpers eventually become breeders on the natal territory or a neighboring territory. Finally, we found evidence that ecological constraints influence dispersal: the probability of dispersing was positively related to the availability of vacant territories in the wider neighborhood of the natal site. Natal dispersal behavior was not influenced by resource competition, measured as group size on the natal territory, or by local density, estimated as the number of active territories in the vicinity of the natal site. Based on comparisons of father-son and brother-brother dispersal behavior, we found no evidence for heritability of philopatric behavior. Dispersal of male fledgling Red-cockaded Woodpeckers can be viewed as conditional on social and ecological factors in the natal territory and in the immediate neighborhood. These factors seem to serve as proximate cues that influence young birds to either disperse or remain as philopatric helpers.