Intrabrood Dominance Hierarchies in Juvenile Red-Cockaded Woodpeckers: The Role of Early Social Environment On Post-Fledging Survival and Natal Dispersal
Competition among individuals over shared resources reveals asymmetries in quality resulting in the formation of dominance hierarchies. These hierarchies act as a mechanism for social selection by partitioning resources among group-living animals. The following chapters describe my dissertation research which investigates the factors contributing to competitive asymmetries among broodmates as well as the short- and long-term consequences of the early social environment for the cooperatively breeding red-cockaded woodpecker (Picoides borealis). My research revealed that fledgling red-cockaded woodpeckers form male-biased, linear dominance hierarchies. Among fledgling males,, high relative nestling condition strongly predicted fledgling dominance, and this condition–rank relationship persisted through independence. Male nestlings are slightly larger and heavier than females; however, the sexual size dimorphism in mass is only present in mixed-sex broods, suggesting that the subtle structural size advantage gives males a competitive advantage over their sisters. Conflict rates among siblings increased with decreasing targeted feeding rates, and dominant fledglings were able to secure more food from provisioning adults through scramble competition. First-year survival favored males over females and dominant males over subordinates. Females were more dispersive overall than males, and subordinate males were more likely to disperse than dominants. The social environment prior to fledging influenced male dispersal decisions and subordinates delayed dispersal in the spring in situations where all dominants died over the winter. The probability of delayed dispersal in females was higher for females raised without brood-mates in one of two populations included in a long-term demographic data analysis. The availability of breeding vacancies may explain the differences in female dispersal behavior according to social environment between these populations. This research contributes to a greater understanding of the relative contribution of intrinsic benefits versus extrinsic constraints as an influence on delayed dispersal decisions in red-cockaded woodpeckers. Inter- and intra-sexual social rank is correlated with individual access to natal food resources and the probability of first-year survival. The intrabrood variation in dispersal strategies driven by social rank is sufficient to regularly produce both dispersal strategies among males and provides additional support that delaying natal dispersal is the preferred strategy for males in this system.