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Population genetic structure and direct observations reveal sex-reversed patterns of dispersal in a cooperative bird.

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Harrison, Xavier A 
York, Jennifer E 
Young, Andrew J 


Sex-biased dispersal is pervasive and has diverse evolutionary implications, but the fundamental drivers of dispersal sex biases remain unresolved. This is due in part to limited diversity within taxonomic groups in the direction of dispersal sex biases, which leaves hypothesis testing critically dependent upon identifying rare reversals of taxonomic norms. Here, we use a combination of observational and genetic data to demonstrate a rare reversal of the avian sex bias in dispersal in the cooperatively breeding white-browed sparrow weaver (Plocepasser mahali). Direct observations revealed that (i) natal philopatry was rare, with both sexes typically dispersing locally to breed, and (ii), unusually for birds, males bred at significantly greater distances from their natal group than females. Population genetic analyses confirmed these patterns, as (i) corrected Assignment index (AIc), FST tests and isolation-by-distance metrics were all indicative of longer dispersal distances among males than females, and (ii) spatial autocorrelation analysis indicated stronger within-group genetic structure among females than males. Examining the spatial scale of extra-group mating highlighted that the resulting 'sperm dispersal' could have acted in concert with individual dispersal to generate these genetic patterns, but gamete dispersal alone cannot account entirely for the sex differences in genetic structure observed. That leading hypotheses for the evolution of dispersal sex biases cannot readily account for these sex-reversed patterns of dispersal in white-browed sparrow weavers highlights the continued need for attention to alternative explanations for this enigmatic phenomenon. We highlight the potential importance of sex differences in the distances over which dispersal opportunities can be detected.



FST, corrected assignment index, isolation by distance, sex-biased dispersal, spatial autocorrelation analysis, Animal Distribution, Animals, Female, Genetics, Population, Male, Sex Factors, Sexual Behavior, Sparrows

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Mol Ecol

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