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Proc Biol Sci. 2004 Jul 22;271(1547):1497-506.

Spatial variation and density-dependent dispersal in competitive coexistence.

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  • 1Department of Ecology and Evolution, The University of Chicago, 1101 East 57th Street, Chicago, IL 60637, USA.


It is well known that dispersal from localities favourable to a species' growth and reproduction (sources) can prevent competitive exclusion in unfavourable localities (sinks). What is perhaps less well known is that too much emigration can undermine the viability of sources and cause regional competitive exclusion. Here, I investigate two biological mechanisms that reduce the cost of dispersal to source communities. The first involves increasing the spatial variation in the strength of competition such that sources can withstand high rates of emigration; the second involves reducing emigration from sources via density-dependent dispersal. I compare how different forms of spatial variation and modes of dispersal influence source viability, and hence source-sink coexistence, under dominance and pre-emptive competition. A key finding is that, while spatial variation substantially reduces dispersal costs under both types of competition, density-dependent dispersal does so only under dominance competition. For instance, when spatial variation in the strength of competition is high, coexistence is possible (regardless of the type of competition) even when sources experience high emigration rates; when spatial variation is low, coexistence is restricted even under low emigration rates. Under dominance competition, density-dependent dispersal has a strong effect on coexistence. For instance, when the emigration rate increases with density at an accelerating rate (Type III density-dependent dispersal), coexistence is possible even when spatial variation is quite low; when the emigration rate increases with density at a decelerating rate (Type II density-dependent dispersal), coexistence is restricted even when spatial variation is quite high. Under pre-emptive competition, density-dependent dispersal has only a marginal effect on coexistence. Thus, the diversity-reducing effects of high dispersal rates persist under pre-emptive competition even when dispersal is density dependent, but can be significantly mitigated under dominance competition if density-dependent dispersal is Type III rather than Type II. These results lead to testable predictions about source-sink coexistence under different regimes of competition, spatial variation and dispersal. They identify situations in which density-independent dispersal provides a reasonable approximation to species' dispersal patterns, and those under which consideration of density-dependent dispersal is crucial to predicting long-term coexistence.

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