American Society of Naturalists

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“Variability in dispersal syndromes is a key driver of metapopulation dynamics in experimental microcosms”

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Staffan Jacob, Alexis S. Chaine, Michèle Huet, Jean Clobert, and Delphine Legrand (Nov 2019)

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A microcosm experiment shows that variability in dispersal syndromes is a key driver of metapopulation dynamics

Differences among individuals within species are of major importance for evolution, but we know little about the role such intraspecific variability can play for the dynamics of connected populations facing environmental changes. Research in the past decades has especially highlighted the great variability in phenotypic and behavioral traits related to dispersal, the movements of individuals between populations. Using an experimental approach with connected microcosms of a ciliate, Staffan Jacob and colleagues at the Theoretical and Experimental Ecology Station, in the south of France, quantified the importance of this intraspecific variability in dispersal for the dynamics of connected populations. They demonstrated that differences among individuals are at least as important for metapopulation dynamics as the spatial and temporal variability of resources. An important part of this effect moreover results from variability of dispersal strategies. This study demonstrates that intraspecific variability in dispersal syndromes can be key in the functioning of metapopulations facing environmental changes.


Abstract

Evolutionary ecology studies have increasingly focused on the impact of intraspecific variability on population processes. However, the role such variation plays in the dynamics of spatially structured populations and how it interacts with environmental changes remains unclear. Here we experimentally quantify the relative importance of intraspecific variability in dispersal-related traits and spatiotemporal variability of environmental conditions for the dynamics of two-patch metapopulations using clonal genotypes of a ciliate in connected microcosms. We demonstrate that, in our simple two-patch microcosms, differences among genotypes are at least as important as spatiotemporal variability of resources for metapopulation dynamics. Furthermore, we show that an important proportion of this effect results from variability of dispersal syndromes. These syndromes can therefore be as important for metapopulation dynamics as spatiotemporal variability of environmental conditions. This study demonstrates that intraspecific variability in dispersal syndromes can be key in the functioning of metapopulations facing environmental changes.