, Volume 66, Issue 2, pp 317-327
Date: 09 Nov 2011

There is a limbo under the moon: what social interactions tell us about the floaters’ underworld

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The ultimate and proximate causes of natal dispersal have been extensively investigated, but the behaviour of dispersers in relation to social interactions has been largely neglected. Here, we investigated the social organisation of floating individuals during their dispersal by analysing the behaviour of 40 radio-tagged eagle owls Bubo bubo during the wandering and stop phases of dispersal. Unexpectedly, eagle owl floaters mixed with conspecifics independently of their sex, age, phase of dispersal, birthplace, health status and habitat features, showing an ‘underworld’ of interactions characterised by the absence of obvious social organisation or short-term strategies. Non-breeding owls were not transient floaters that occurred at numerous sites for short periods of time but rather had fairly stable home ranges: they attempted to settle as soon as possible within well-defined home ranges. The spatial distribution pattern of floaters and high rates of home range overlap support the prediction that floating individuals are not spatially segregated, challenging the expectation that dominance by size, age and/or health status may determine the exclusive use of some portions of the dispersal area. Finally, (1) the short distances among conspecifics and the extensive home range overlaps allowed us to discard the possibility that neighbouring floaters represent a real cost during dispersal and (2) floater interactions showed a lack of clear mechanisms for avoidance of kin competition among offspring or inbreeding.

Communicated by E. Korpimäki