• dispersal strategies;
  • extra-pair paternity;
  • Karoo scrub-robin;
  • mark-recapture;
  • microsatellites;
  • relatedness


Dispersal can be motivated by multiple factors including sociality. Dispersal behaviour affects population genetic structure that in turn reinforces social organization. We combined observational information with individual-based genetic data in the Karoo scrub-robin, a facultative cooperatively breeding bird, to understand how social bonds within familial groups affect mating patterns, cause sex asymmetry in dispersal behaviour and ultimately influence the evolution of dispersal. Our results revealed that males and females do not have symmetrical roles in structuring the population. Males are extremely philopatric and tend to delay dispersal until they gain a breeding position within a radius of two territories around the natal site. By contrast, females dispersed over larger distances, as soon as they reach independence. This resulted in male neighbourhoods characterized by high genetic relatedness. The long-distance dispersal strategy of females ensured that Karoo scrub-robins do not pair with relatives thereby compensating for male philopatry caused by cooperation. The observed female-biased strategy seems to be the most prominent mechanism to reduce the risk of inbreeding that characterizes social breeding system. This study demonstrates that tying together ecological data, such as breeding status, determining social relationships with genetic data, such as kinship, provides valuable insights into the proximate causes of dispersal, which are central to any evolutionary interpretation.