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Trends Ecol Evol. 2014 Aug;29(8):444-50. doi: 10.1016/j.tree.2014.05.009. Epub 2014 Jun 21.

Is dispersal neutral?

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Division of Biological Sciences, University of Montana, Missoula, MT 59812, USA. Electronic address:
Department of Biological Sciences, Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH 03755, USA.


Dispersal is difficult to quantify and often treated as purely stochastic and extrinsically controlled. Consequently, there remains uncertainty about how individual traits mediate dispersal and its ecological effects. Addressing this uncertainty is crucial for distinguishing neutral versus non-neutral drivers of community assembly. Neutral theory assumes that dispersal is stochastic and equivalent among species. This assumption can be rejected on principle, but common research approaches tacitly support the 'neutral dispersal' assumption. Theory and empirical evidence that dispersal traits are under selection should be broadly integrated in community-level research, stimulating greater scrutiny of this assumption. A tighter empirical connection between the ecological and evolutionary forces that shape dispersal will enable richer understanding of this fundamental process and its role in community assembly.


community ecology; dispersal; evolution; gene flow; population biology

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