Philopatry and dispersal result in selection of habitat locations that may differ in resources and social environment and thus should influence fitness components like survival and reproduction. We examined short-distance movements of young and adult females from natal or previous nesting sites within a colony of Columbian ground squirrels (Urocitellus columbianus) in the Rocky Mountains of Alberta, Canada, over a 17-year period. Females of all ages were strongly philopatric, yet a few (10–15%) exhibited movements that took them to new home ranges. We tested three hypotheses to explain the pattern of female natal and breeding movements: (1) that movements of philopatric females promote proximity to close kin; (2) that range shifts favour close kin via bequeathal of territory and (3) that dispersers move to lower density areas where competition for resources is lower. Tests of these three hypotheses revealed that: (1) philopatry and movements of young and older philopatric females led to proximity to mothers and local presence of close kin; (2) breeding dispersal did not result in bequeathal of home range to daughters, but movements of philopatric females suggested that they shared space with close kin and (3) adult females moved to new ranges with lower local densities, though dispersing females also left ranges where local density was significantly lower than for philopatric females. Natal and breeding movements among years produced two opportunities for territorial females: close spatial proximity to close kin via short philopatric movements, and habitats with fewer competitors via longer dispersal movements.
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