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AoB Plants. 2019 Sep 3;11(5):plz042. doi: 10.1093/aobpla/plz042. eCollection 2019 Oct.

The total dispersal kernel: a review and future directions.

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Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Organismal Biology, Iowa State University, Ames, IA, USA.
Department of Biology and Ecology Center, Utah State University, Logan, UT, USA.
Theoretical Ecology, Faculty of Biology and Preclinical Medicine, University of Regensburg, Regensburg, Germany.
School of Forestry, Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, AZ, USA.
Department of Nature Conservation and Landscape Ecology, University of Freiburg, Freiburg, Germany.
Department of Biology, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA, USA.
Geography Department, Humboldt-University Berlin, Berlin, Germany.
Dynamic Macroecology, Department of Landscape Dynamics, Swiss Federal Research Institute WSL, Birmensdorf, Switzerland.
Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Benson Lane, Wallingford, Oxfordshire, UK.
Department of Mathematics, University of Miami, Coral Gables, FL, USA.
Department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation & Center for Latin American Studies, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL, USA.
Department of Fish, Wildlife and Conservation Biology, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO, USA.
Department of Biology, College of Charleston, Charleston, SC, USA.
School of Earth Sciences and Environmental Sustainability, Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, AZ, USA.
Department of Wildland Resources and Ecology Center, Utah State University, Logan, UT, USA.
Department of Mathematics and Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN, USA.
Department of Biology, University of Maryland, College Park, MD, USA.
School of Biological Sciences, Washington State University, Pullman WA, USA.


The distribution and abundance of plants across the world depends in part on their ability to move, which is commonly characterized by a dispersal kernel. For seeds, the total dispersal kernel (TDK) describes the combined influence of all primary, secondary and higher-order dispersal vectors on the overall dispersal kernel for a plant individual, population, species or community. Understanding the role of each vector within the TDK, and their combined influence on the TDK, is critically important for being able to predict plant responses to a changing biotic or abiotic environment. In addition, fully characterizing the TDK by including all vectors may affect predictions of population spread. Here, we review existing research on the TDK and discuss advances in empirical, conceptual modelling and statistical approaches that will facilitate broader application. The concept is simple, but few examples of well-characterized TDKs exist. We find that significant empirical challenges exist, as many studies do not account for all dispersal vectors (e.g. gravity, higher-order dispersal vectors), inadequately measure or estimate long-distance dispersal resulting from multiple vectors and/or neglect spatial heterogeneity and context dependence. Existing mathematical and conceptual modelling approaches and statistical methods allow fitting individual dispersal kernels and combining them to form a TDK; these will perform best if robust prior information is available. We recommend a modelling cycle to parameterize TDKs, where empirical data inform models, which in turn inform additional data collection. Finally, we recommend that the TDK concept be extended to account for not only where seeds land, but also how that location affects the likelihood of establishing and producing a reproductive adult, i.e. the total effective dispersal kernel.


Defaunation; dispersal vector; frugivore; mathematical modeling; seed dispersal; seed dispersal effectiveness; total dispersal kernel; total effective dispersal kernel; wind

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