, Volume 40, Issue 3, pp 199-207

Why do female Belding's ground squirrels disperse away from food resources?

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Abstract

We examined the effects of food provisioning on the natal dispersal behavior of Belding's ground squirrels (Spermophilus beldingi). We provided extra food to adult and yearling females in their maternal territories during pregnancy and lactation, and to offspring of these females in their natal areas for 6 weeks after weaning. We used unprovisioned young of unprovisioned mothers as controls. Provisioning influenced the probability of dispersal from the natal area by female but not male S. beldingi. All surviving male S.␣beldingi dispersed by 55 weeks of age, regardless of whether they and their mothers received extra food. By contrast, we observed a significant trend, beginning 3 weeks after weaning and continuing through the yearling year, for a greater proportion of provisioned than control female S. beldingi to emigrate from the natal area. Competition for food did not appear to influence natal dispersal of females. However, overall population density, density of females weaning litters, and rates of aggression and vigilance among these females, were higher in provisioned than control areas, suggesting that competition for non-food resources was unusually intense in provisioned areas. We propose that juvenile female, but not juvenile male, S. beldingi may emigrate from the natal site to increase access to areas with low densities of conspecifics. Together with findings of earlier workers, our results suggest that spatial and temporal distributions of environmental resources are important influences on the dispersal behavior of female ground squirrels.

Received: 28 February 1996 / Accepted after revision: 16 October 1996