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Causes and consequences of fine-scale breeding dispersal in a female-philopatric species


The potentially confounded effects of factors affecting breeding dispersal have rarely been simultaneously examined. The consequences of breeding dispersal are even less studied, presenting a paradox: breeding dispersal seldom seems to improve breeding success, despite its presumed adaptiveness. We studied the causes and consequences of breeding dispersal in female-philopatric eiders (Somateria mollissima) in relation to the spatiotemporal predictability of nest success. Previous nest fate, breeding experience, and breeding density simultaneously affected breeding dispersal. Dispersal distances were longer among inexperienced breeders and after failed breeding. Individual dispersal distances decreased with increasing nest-site-specific breeding density, whereas island-specific nesting success peaked at intermediate densities. The fate of neighbouring nests (‘public information’) did not influence dispersal. Breeding dispersal was unrelated to subsequent hatching success, controlling for individual quality (body condition, breeding experience, previous nest fate), while it delayed hatch date, which is likely to impair reproductive success. This delay may result from the loss of acquired information of local breeding conditions, prolonging nest prospecting and establishment, also helping explain why breeding dispersal did not increase at high breeding densities, despite a potential reduction in nesting success. In long-lived species, however, dispersal-induced reductions in reproductive output in one season could be offset by improved parental survival prospects. Careful nest prospecting may be profitable, because overall nest success had a strong island-specific component but showed weak temporal variation, and successive individual nest fates were predictable between years. Once a safe nest site is found, females may breed at the same place successfully for many years.

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Tvärminne Zoological Station provided facilities. We thank several ornithologists for field assistance, and the Academy of Finland (grant no. 128039 to K.J. and M.Ö.) and Maj and Tor Nessling Foundation (A.L.) for funding. All experiments comply with the current laws of Finland.

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Correspondence to Markus Öst.

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Communicated by Ola Olsson.

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Öst, M., Lehikoinen, A., Jaatinen, K. et al. Causes and consequences of fine-scale breeding dispersal in a female-philopatric species. Oecologia 166, 327–336 (2011).

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  • Breeding time
  • Habitat selection
  • Predation risk
  • Site fidelity
  • Somateria mollissima