Patterns and processes of dispersal behaviour in arvicoline rodents

Jean-Francois Le Galliard, Alice Remy, Rolf A. Ims, Xavier Lambin

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70 Citations (Scopus)


A good understanding of mammalian societies requires measuring patterns and comprehending processes of dispersal in each sex. We investigated dispersal behaviour in arvicoline rodents, a subfamily of mammals widespread in northern temperate environments and characterized by a multivoltine life cycle. In arvicoline rodents, variation in life history strategies occurs along a continuum from precocial to delayed maturation that reflects seasonal and ecological fluctuations. We compared dispersal across and within species focusing on the effects of external (condition-dependent) and internal (phenotype-dependent) factors. Our data revealed substantial, unexplained variation between species for dispersal distances and a strong variation within species for both dispersal distance and fraction. Some methodological aspects explained variation across studies, which cautions against comparisons that do not control for them. Overall, the species under consideration display frequent short-distance dispersal events and extremely flexible dispersal strategies, but they also have hitherto unexpected capacity to disperse long distances. Female arvicolines are predominantly philopatric relative to males, but we found no clear association between the mating system and the degree of sex bias in dispersal across species. Dispersal is a response to both various proximate and ultimate factors, including competition, inbreeding avoidance, mate searching and habitat quality. In particular, our review suggests that costs and benefits experienced during transience and settlement are prime determinants of condition dependence. Patterns of phenotype-dependent dispersal are idiosyncratic, except for a widespread association between an exploration/activity syndrome and natal dispersal. Consequences for population dynamics and genetic structures are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)505-523
Number of pages19
JournalMolecular Ecology
Issue number3
Early online date29 Dec 2011
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2012


  • condition-dependent dispersal
  • mammals
  • mating systems
  • natal and breeding dispersal
  • sex-biased dispersal
  • voles microtus-ochrogaster
  • red-backed voles
  • clethrionomys-rufocanus-bedfordiae
  • spatially structured populations
  • mother-offspring interactions
  • density-dependent dispersal
  • affect natal dispersal
  • space-use responses
  • grey-sided vole


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