The ecological constraints hypothesis is suggested to explain the evolution of cooperative breeding in birds. This hypothesis predicts that the scene for cooperative breeding is set when ecological factors constrain offspring from dispersal. This prediction was tested in the atypical cooperative breeding system of the long-tailed tit, Aegithalos caudatus, by comparing the degree of philopatry and cooperation in an isolated and a contiguous site whilst experimentally controlling for confounding aspects of reproduction. No difference was found between the two sites in the survival of offspring but a greater proportion were found to remain philopatric in the isolated site. This difference was caused by greater philopatry of normally dispersive females suggesting, as predicted, that dispersal costs were greater from this site. Furthermore, a greater proportion of males and females cooperated following breeding failure in the isolated site than in the contiguous site. Thus, as has been suggested for typical avian cooperative breeders, dispersal costs, relative to philopatric benefits, appear to set the scene for cooperative breeding in long-tailed tits
To submit an update or takedown request for this paper, please submit an Update/Correction/Removal Request.