- 1Factors governing dispersal rates have seldom been examined in spatially structured populations of vertebrates. We gathered information during 8 years on transfer rates between subpopulations in a spatially structured, growing population of colonial lesser kestrels Falco naumanni, and analysed the contribution of several variables related to spatial isolation and characteristics of both subpopulation of origin and destination on probabilities of dispersal.
- 2Lesser kestrels were highly philopatric to their subpopulations, but first-breeders dispersed more often than adults (26% vs. 4%, n= 1706) because adults were reluctant to move from familiar areas. Frequency of subpopulation change was higher in females than in males (first-recruiters: 30% vs. 22%, n= 987; adults 5% vs. 1%, n= 719), according to their different breeding roles. However, all populational factors had an equal effect on individuals of different sex and dispersal status.
- 3Movement rates decreased with inter-subpopulation distance – indicating that travelling to distant subpopulations may impose costs in terms of breeding prospects – and with the number of subpopulations, which increased during our study period.
- 4Conspecific attraction strongly influenced the probability of dispersal: it was relatively higher in largely populated subpopulations, and individuals of large subpopulations were reluctant to change to others. These results were neither influenced by the size and breeding density of the subpopulations nor by habitat quality in terms of food availability or risk of predation, as indicated by breeding success of kestrels at each subpopulation. The number of conspecifics could be used by the kestrels as a cue of patch quality in terms of settlement options, and large subpopulations could be more easily detected by prospecting birds.
- 5Our study highlights the fact that several assumptions of theoretical metapopulation modelling are often not fulfilled in nature. Both theoretical models and management strategies on spatially structured populations or metapopulations should thus consider the number, population size, and spatial distribution of local populations, as well as their relationships with the dispersal ability of the species.