Scherler, P., S. Witczak, A. Aebischer, V. van Bergen, B. Catitti & M. U. Grüebler (2023)

Determinants of departure to natal dispersal across an elevational gradient in a long‐lived raptor species.

Further information

Ecol. Evol. 13: jeb244102





Attributes of natal habitat often affect early stages of natal dispersal. Thus, environmental gradients at mountain slopes are expected to result in gradients of dispersal behavior and to drive elevational differences in dispersal distances and settlement behavior. However, covariation of environmental factors across elevational gradients complicates the identification of mechanisms underlying the elevational patterns in dispersal behavior. Assuming a decreasing food availability with elevation, we conducted a food supplementation experiment of red kite (Milvus milvus) broods across an elevational gradient toward the upper range margin and we GPS- tagged nestlings to assess their start of dispersal. While considering timing of breeding and breeding density across elevation, this allowed disentangling effects of elevational food gradients from co- varying environmental gradients on the age at departure from the natal home range. We found an effect of food supplementation on age at departure, but no elevational gradient in the effect of food supplementation. Similarly, we found an effect of breeding density on departure age without an underlying elevational gradient. Supplementary- fed juveniles and females in high breeding densities departed at younger age than control juveniles and males in low breeding densities. We only found an elevational gradient in the timing of breeding. Late hatched juveniles, and thus individuals at high elevation, departed at earlier age compared to early hatched juveniles. We conclude that favorable natal food conditions, allow for a young departure age of juvenile red kites. We show that the elevational delay in breeding is compensated by premature departure resulting in an elevational gradient in departure age. Thus, elevational differences in dispersal behaviour likely arise due to climatic factors affecting timing of breeding. However, the results also suggest that spatial differences in food availability and breeding density affect dispersal behavior and that their large- scale gradients within the distributional range might result in differential natal dispersal patterns.
keywords: elevational gradient, emigration, food supplementation, Milvus milvus, natal dispersal, onset of dispersal, red kite