Long-distance dispersal (LDD) may contribute disproportionately to species persistence in fragmented landscapes, non-native invasions, and range shifts in response to climate change. However, direct data on LDD are extremely limited, leaving us with little understanding of why it occurs. I used six years of mark–recapture data on the stream salamander Gyrinophilus porphyriticus to test theoretical predictions of how variation in habitat quality affects LDD. Frequency of LDD was quantified using the kurtosis of yearly movement distributions from recaptured animals in a 1-km headwater stream. Temporal and spatial variation in habitat quality were quantified with spatially explicit data on the body condition and dispersion of individuals throughout the study stream. Using information-theoretic model selection criteria, I found that LDD increased during periods of low average body condition and low spatial variation in body condition. Consistent with basic theory, my results indicate that temporal variation in habitat quality is critical to initiating dispersal, and that LDD increases when animals must move farther to encounter higher-quality habitat. This suggests that information on how habitat quality varies in time and space can be useful for predicting LDD. More broadly, this study highlights the value of direct data on animal movement for testing dispersal theory.
Copyright 2009 by the Ecological Society of America. Winsor H. Lowe 2009. What drives long-distance dispersal? A test of theoretical predictions. Ecology 90:1456–1462. http://dx.doi.org/10.1890/08-1903.1.