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Am Nat. 2003 Oct;162(4):415-26. Epub 2003 Oct 16.

Sex-biased dispersal and adaptation to marginal habitats.

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  • 1Unit for Ecology and Evolution, Department of Biology, University of Fribourg, Chemin du Musée 10, CH-1700 Fribourg, Switzerland.


If gene flow occurs through both sexes but only females contribute to population growth, adaptation to marginal (sink) habitats should be differentially affected by male versus female dispersal. Here I address this problem with two models. First, I consider the fate of a rare allele that improves fitness in the marginal habitat but reduces fitness in the core (source) habitat. Then I study the evolution of a polygenic character mediating a trade-off in fitness between the habitats. Both approaches led to qualitatively similar predictions. The effect of a difference in the dispersal rate between the sexes depends on the degree to which immigration from the core habitat boosts the reproductive output from the marginal habitat. This boost is slight if the marginal habitat is able to sustain well a population without immigration. In that case, both female- and male-biased dispersal is more favorable for adaptation to marginal habitats than equal dispersal of both sexes (assuming that the dispersal rate averaged over the sexes is kept constant). In contrast, if the marginal habitat is an absolute sink unable to sustain a population without immigration, the conditions for adaptation to that habitat are least favorable under highly male-biased dispersal and most favorable under highly female-biased dispersal. Under some circumstances, high average (male+female) dispersal is more favorable than low dispersal. Thus, gene flow should not be seen solely as thwarting adaptation to marginal habitats. The results are interpreted in terms of how male and female dispersal affects the relative rate of gene flow from the source to the sink habitat and in the opposite direction. This study predicts that ecological niches of taxa with female-biased dispersal should tend to be broader and more evolutionarily flexible.

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