Coupling of dispersal and aggression facilitates the rapid range expansion of a passerine bird

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393 Scopus citations


Behaviors can facilitate colonization of a novel environment, but the mechanisms underlying this process are poorly understood. On one hand, behavioral flexibility allows for an immediate response of colonizers to novel environments, which is critical to population establishment and persistence. On the other hand, integrated sets of behaviors that display limited flexibility can enhance invasion success by coupling behaviors with dispersal strategies that are especially important during natural range expansions. Direct observations of colonization events are required to determine the mechanisms underlying changes in behavior associated with colonization, but such observations are rare. Here, we studied changes in aggression on a large temporal and spatial scale across populations of two sister taxa of bluebirds (Sialia) to show that coupling of aggression and dispersal strongly facilitated the range expansion of western bluebirds across the northwestern United States over the last 30 years. We show that biased dispersal of highly aggressive males to the invasion front allowed western bluebirds to displace less aggressive mountain bluebirds. However, once mountain bluebirds were excluded, aggression of western bluebirds decreased rapidly across consecutive generations in concordance with local selection on highly heritable aggressive behavior. Further, the observed adaptive microevolution of aggression was accelerated by the link between dispersal propensity and aggression. Importantly, our results show that behavioral changes among populations were not caused by behavioral flexibility and instead strongly implicate adaptive integration of dispersal and aggression in facilitating the ongoing and rapid reciprocal range change of these species in North America.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)15017-15022
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number38
StatePublished - Sep 18 2007


  • Behavioral integration
  • Colonization
  • Competition
  • Genetics of behavior
  • Geographical range

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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