Natal dispersal is a key life-history component that may be influenced by the fitness consequences of inbreeding. We studied natal dispersal and inbreeding within a large population of cooperatively breeding, endangered Red-cockaded Woodpeckers (Picoides borealis). We assessed the costs of close inbreeding, the spatial distribution of related males and its relationship to dispersal distance of females, and the change in dispersal behavior of females in the presence of closely related males. Close inbreeding resulted in a significant loss of fitness, through two separate effects: closely related pairs (kinship coefficient ≥ 0.125) exhibited lowered hatching rates and lowered survival and recruitment of fledglings relative to unrelated pairs. Despite a highly predictable spatial clustering of closely related males near the female's natal territory, natal dispersal distance of females was not sufficient to avoid these males as mates. Females changed dispersal behavior in the presence of closely related males on the natal territory: female fledglings were significantly more likely to disperse from natal territories if there were closely related males breeding there in the following year. Females did not change dispersal behavior in the presence of related males that were not on the natal territory. We suggest that dispersal behavior is a trade-off between benefits of short-distance dispersal, e.g., an advantage in competing for scarce breeding vacancies, and the substantial cost of close inbreeding.
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Vol. 102 • No. 3