Why dispersal should be maximized at intermediate scales of heterogeneity



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Dispersal is a fundamental biological process that results in the redistribution of organisms due to the interplay between the mode of dispersal, the range of scales over which movement occurs, and the scale of spatial heterogeneity, in which patchiness may occur across a broad range of scales. Despite the diversity of dispersal mechanisms and dispersal length scales in nature, we posit that a fundamental scaling relationship should exist between dispersal and spatial heterogeneity. We present both a conceptual model and mathematical formalization of this expected relationship between the scale of dispersal and the scale of patchiness, which predicts that the magnitude of dispersal (number of individuals) among patches should be maximized when the scale of spatial heterogeneity (defined in terms of patch size and isolation) is neither too fine nor too coarse relative to the gap-crossing abilities of a species. We call this the “dispersal scaling hypothesis” (DSH). We demonstrate congruence in the functional form of this relationship under fundamentally different dispersal assumptions, using well-documented isotropic dispersal kernels and empirically derived dispersal parameters from diverse species, in order to explore the generality of this finding. The DSH generates testable hypotheses as to when and under what landscape scenarios dispersal is most likely to be successful. This provides insights into what management scenarios might be necessary to either restore landscape connectivity, as in certain conservation applications, or disrupt connectivity, as when attempting to manage landscapes to impede the spread of an invasive species, pest, or pathogen.


Citation: Skelsey, P., . . . & Garret, K. (2013). Why dispersal should be maximized at intermediate scales of heterogeneity. Theoretical Ecology, 6(2), 203-211. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12080-012-0171-3


Spatial heterogeneity, Movement, Population connectivity, Patchiness, Habitat fragmentation, Matrix resistance