Dispersal syndromes in challenging environments: A cross-species experiment

Ecol Lett. 2022 Dec;25(12):2675-2687. doi: 10.1111/ele.14124. Epub 2022 Oct 12.


Dispersal is a central biological process tightly integrated into life-histories, morphology, physiology and behaviour. Such associations, or syndromes, are anticipated to impact the eco-evolutionary dynamics of spatially structured populations, and cascade into ecosystem processes. As for dispersal on its own, these syndromes are likely neither fixed nor random, but conditional on the experienced environment. We experimentally studied how dispersal propensity varies with individuals' phenotype and local environmental harshness using 15 species ranging from protists to vertebrates. We reveal a general phenotypic dispersal syndrome across studied species, with dispersers being larger, more active and having a marked locomotion-oriented morphology and a strengthening of the link between dispersal and some phenotypic traits with environmental harshness. Our proof-of-concept metacommunity model further reveals cascading effects of context-dependent syndromes on the local and regional organisation of functional diversity. Our study opens new avenues to advance our understanding of the functioning of spatially structured populations, communities and ecosystems.

Keywords: context-dependent dispersal; dispersal strategy; distributed experiment; predation risk; resource limitation.

Publication types

  • Letter

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Ecosystem*
  • Phenotype
  • Syndrome