Lifetime fitness of short- and long-distance dispersing great reed warblers

Evolution. 2004 Nov;58(11):2546-57. doi: 10.1111/j.0014-3820.2004.tb00883.x.


Dispersal is of prime importance for many evolutionary processes and has been studied for decades. The reproductive consequences of dispersal have proven difficult to study, simply because it is difficult to keep track of dispersing individuals. In most previous studies evaluating the fitness effects of dispersal, immigrants at a study locality have been lumped into one category and compared to philopatric individuals. This is unfortunate, because there are reasons to believe that immigrants with long and short dispersal distances may differ substantially in reproductive success. In the present study, we used a combination of capture-recapturing and multilocus microsatellite genotyping to categorize great reed warblers at our Swedish study site as philopatric individuals or short- or long-distance dispersing immigrants. We then performed novel comparisons of lifetime reproductive success (LRS) and survival rates of these three dispersal categories. The birds belonged to cohorts 1987-1996, and data for their LRS were gathered between 1988 and 2003. The analyses showed that philopatric males attracted more females, produced more fledglings and recruits throughout their lives, and survived better than immigrants. Among the immigrant males, those categorized as long-distance dispersers had lowest LRS and survival probability. Models that included covariates of potential importance showed that the difference in LRS between dispersal categories was partly caused by corresponding variation in number of breeding years at our study site. These results indicate that short- and, in particular, long-distance dispersers were of poor phenotypic quality, but it may also be proposed that immigrants attracted few females because they were poorly adapted to the local social environment. In females, the number of local recruits corrected for the number of breeding years (as well as for number of fledglings) differed between dispersal categories in a pattern that suggests an intermediate optimal dispersal distance. Short-distance dispersers recruited more offspring per year (and per fledgling) than both philopatric individuals and long-distance dispersers. Data suggest that the low LRS of philopatric females was related to costs of inbreeding. The low LRS of long-distance dispersing females may have resulted from their offspring being especially prone to disperse outside the study area, but also other potential explanations exist, such as local maladaptation. Our study highlights the importance of separating immigrant birds on the basis of their genetic similarity to the local study population when analyzing variation in LRS and inferring realized gene flow.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cohort Studies
  • Demography*
  • Female
  • Fertility / physiology*
  • Gene Frequency
  • Genetics, Population*
  • Linear Models
  • Male
  • Microsatellite Repeats / genetics
  • Population Dynamics
  • Selection, Genetic*
  • Sex Factors
  • Songbirds / genetics
  • Songbirds / physiology*
  • Survival Analysis
  • Sweden