Long-distance dispersal (LDD) may contribute disproportionately to range expansions, the creation of new evolutionary lineages, and species persistence in human-dominated landscapes. However, because data on the individual consequences of dispersal distance are extremely limited, we have little insight on how LDD is maintained in natural populations. I used six years of spatially explicit capture–mark–recapture (CMR) data to test the prediction that individual performance increases with dispersal distance in the stream salamander Gyrinophilus porphyriticus. Dispersal distance was total distance moved along the 1-km study stream, ranging from 0 to 565 m. To quantify individual performance, I used CMR estimates of survival and individual growth rates based on change in body length. Survival and growth rates increased significantly with dispersal distance. These relationships were not confounded by pre-dispersal body condition or by ecological gradients along the stream. Individual benefits of LDD were likely caused by an increase in the upper limit of settlement site quality with dispersal distance. My results do not support the view that the fitness consequences of LDD are unpredictable and instead suggest that consistent evolutionary mechanisms may explain the prevalence of LDD in nature. They also highlight the value of direct CMR data for understanding the individual consequences of variation in dispersal distance and how that variation is maintained in natural populations.
Copyright 2010 by the Ecological Society of America. Winsor H. Lowe 2010. Explaining long-distance dispersal: effects of dispersal distance on survival and growth in a stream salamander. Ecology 91:3008–3015. http://dx.doi.org/10.1890/09-1458.1.