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Socially informed dispersal in a territorial cooperative breeder
Journal of Animal Ecology
Swansea University Author: Luca Borger
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DOI (Published version): 10.1111/1365-2656.12795
Dispersal is a key process governing the dynamics of socially and spatially structured populations, and involves three distinct stages: emigration, transience, and settlement. At each stage, individuals have to make movement decisions, which are influenced by social, environmental, and individual fa...
|Published in:||Journal of Animal Ecology|
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Dispersal is a key process governing the dynamics of socially and spatially structured populations, and involves three distinct stages: emigration, transience, and settlement. At each stage, individuals have to make movement decisions, which are influenced by social, environmental, and individual factors. Yet, a comprehensive understanding of the drivers that influence such decisions is still lacking, particularly for the transient stage during which free-living individuals are inherently difficult to follow.Social circumstances such as the likelihood of encountering conspecifics can be expected to strongly affects decision making during dispersal, particularly in territorial species where encounters with resident conspecifics are antagonistic. Here we analyzed the movement trajectories of 47 dispersing coalitions of Kalahari meerkats (Suricata suricatta) through a landscape occupied by constantly monitored resident groups, while simultaneously taking into account environmental and individual characteristics.We used GPS locations collected on resident groups to create a geo-referenced social landscape representing the likelihood of encountering resident groups. We used a step-selection function to infer the effect of social, environmental and individual covariates on habitat selection during dispersal. Lastly, we created a temporal mismatch between the social landscape and the dispersal event of interest to identify the temporal scale at which dispersers perceive the social landscape.Including information about the social landscape considerably improved our representation of the dispersal trajectory, compared to analyses that only accounted for environmental variables. The latter were only marginally selected or avoided by dispersers. Before leaving their natal territory, dispersers selected areas frequently used by their natal group. In contrast, after leaving their natal territory, they selectively used areas where they were less likely to encounter unrelated groups. This pattern was particularly marked in larger dispersing coalitions and when unrelated males were part of the dispersing coalition.Our results suggest that, in socially and spatially structured species, dispersers gather and process social information during dispersal, and that reducing risk of aggression from unrelated resident groups outweighs benefits derived from conspecific attraction. Finally, our work underlines the intimate link between the social structure of a population and dispersal, which affect each other reciprocally.
Conspecific avoidance, informed dispersal, movement, social landscape, step selection, Suricata suricatta
Faculty of Science and Engineering