Philopatry and natal dispersal in a sedentary population of western marsh harrier


Audrey Sternalski, CEBC-CNRS, 79360 Beauvoir-sur-Niort, France.


Dispersal is a key life-history trait because it influences population dynamics and population genetic structure. From a behavioural perspective, the study of natal dispersal requires some understanding of the mechanisms that affect individual movements, because movements of an animal form a path that is continuous throughout its life. Our aim was to investigate juvenile dispersal strategies in the western marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus, between fledging and first breeding attempt (from 1 to 4 years later, depending on the sex and individual). Using radio tracking, we monitored dispersing juvenile harriers and their home-range size variations within a sedentary population in central western France from 2001 to 2007. Juvenile dispersal strategy was mainly characterized by a very high natal philopatry (i.e. birds that remained within the study area) and short-distance dispersal. All but one bird (out of 39) remained within the study area between their first winter and their first spring, and 96.0% during their first spring. The distance moved at 2 years of age was significantly larger for males than for females (3800±sd 3593 m and 935±sd 481 m for seven males and six females, respectively), in contrast to most bird species studied so far. Home-range size was not sex biased and significantly decreased with age. In addition, non-breeding birds had larger home ranges (1603±sd 2128 ha) than breeders (349±sd 185 ha). Using data obtained from other populations, juvenile marsh harrier dispersal strategies appeared to be determined by migratory status (migratory birds dispersing farther) and demographic parameters (juvenile survival or fecundity).