Article: article from journal or magazin.
Establishment success and resulting fitness consequences for vole dispersers
* joint first author
Dispersal is one of the most important, yet least understood phenomena of evolutionary ecology. Triggers and consequences of dispersal are difficult to study in natural populations since dispersers can typically only be identified a posteriori. Therefore, a lot of work on dispersal is either of a theoretical nature or based on anecdotal observation. This is especially true for cryptic species such as small mammals. We conducted an experiment on the common vole, Microtus arvalis, in semi-natural enclosures and investigated the spatial and genetic establishment success of residents and dispersers in their natal and new populations. Our study uses genetic data on the reproductive success of 1255 individuals to measure the fitness trajectories of the residents and dispersing individuals. In agreement with past studies, we found that dispersal was highly male-biased, and was most probably induced by the agonistic encounters with conspecifics, suggesting it could act as an inbreeding avoidance mechanism. There was low breeding success of dispersers into new populations. Although nearly 26% of identified dispersers reproduced in their natal populations, only seven percent reproduced in the new populations. Settlement appeared to be a pre-requisite for reproduction in both sexes, and animals that did not spatially settle into a new population dispersed again, usually on the same day of immigration. In the event that dispersers reproduced in the new population, they did so at relatively low population densities. We also found age-related differences between the sexes in breeding success, and male dispersers that subsequently established in the new population were young individuals that had not reproduced in their natal population, whereas successful females had already reproduced in their natal population. In conclusion, with our detailed field data on establishment and substantial parentage assignments to understand breeding success, we were able to gain an insight into the fitness of dispersers, and how the two sexes optimise their fitness. Taken together, our results help to further understand the relative advantages and costs of dispersal in the common vole.
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