Social and ecological influences on dispersal and philopatry in the plateau pika (Ochotona curzoniae)

F. Stephen Dobson, Andrew T. Smith, Wang Xue Gao

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96 Scopus citations


Benefits and costs of dispersal and philopatry of the social plateau pika (Ochotona curzoniae) were studied on the Tibetan plateau for 3 years. Although short-lived, plateau pikas live in cohesive family groups that occupy burrow systems in sedge meadow habitat. Most (57.8%) plateau pikas were philopatric, and dispersal movements were extremely restricted. No juvenile females or adult pikas moved more than two family ranges between years; the greatest observed dispersal distances were by two juvenile males that moved five family ranges from the family of their birth. Traversing unfamiliar habitat was not a cost of pika dispersal because most dispersers settled in families that they could easily visit before dispersal. Dispersal movements appeared to result in equalization of density among pika families, an expected result if competition for environmental resources influenced dispersal. Males did not disperse to gain advantages in competition for mates, as evidenced by their moving to families with significantly fewer females. Females, however, moved to families with significantly more males. Males provide abundant paternal care, and significantly more offspring per female survived to become adults from families with more adult males per adult female. Evidence concerning the influence of inbreeding avoidance on natal dispersal was indirect. Some males exhibited natal philopatry; thus some families had opportunity for close inbreeding. Males and females that dispersed had no opposite-sex relatives in their new families. Philopatric pikas may have benefited by remaining in families that exhibited low local densities, and philopatric females might have benefited from social cooperation with relatives.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)622-635
Number of pages14
JournalBehavioral Ecology
Issue number6
StatePublished - 1998


  • Black-lipped pika
  • China
  • Dispersal
  • Inbreeding
  • Mate competition
  • Ochotona curzoniae
  • Philopatry
  • Plateau pika
  • Resource competition
  • Tibetan plateau

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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