Stepping stones of life: Natal dispersal in the group-living but noncooperative speckled warbler

Janet L. Gardner*, Robert D. Magrath, Hanna Kokko

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    25 Citations (Scopus)


    In most cooperatively breeding birds the offspring of one sex, usually male, delays dispersal to remain on the natal territory and helps its parents to rear subsequent young. Thus delayed dispersal could be the first step in the evolution of cooperative breeding. We studied natal dispersal in a population of the group-living speckled warbler, Chthonicola sagittata, based on observations of a colour-banded population over 3 years. Unlike other group-living members of the Acanthizinae, all juvenile males in this population dispersed to settle on foreign territories as subordinates, which do not help rear the young. Speckled warblers showed all the life history traits that are thought to result in a saturated habitat and lead to delayed dispersal: they were sedentary, had high adult survival and had a male-biased sex ratio. However, they differed from other acanthizids in occurring at low density (0.18 birds/ha) on large breeding territories (6-12 ha), with a maximum of two males per territory. This may allow subordinates to live on foreign territories yet avoid aggression from dominants. A benefit of dispersal is that it provides an additional route to gaining a breeding vacancy. Dispersers can acquire vacancies on their new territory or on a neighbour's, but incest avoidance would be likely to constrain nondispersing males to neighbours' territories. A model of relative lifetime success showed that the survival benefits of natal philopatry are unlikely to outweigh this benefit of dispersal.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)521-530
    Number of pages10
    JournalAnimal Behaviour
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2003


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