Propagule dispersal and the scales of marine community process

  • Kinlan B
  • Gaines S
  • Lester S
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Benthic marine organisms are characterized by a bipartite life history
in which populations of sedentary adults are connected by oceanic
transport of planktonic propagules. In contrast with the terrestrial
case, where 'long distance dispersal' (LDD) has traditionally been
viewed as a process involving rare events, this creates the possibility
for large numbers of offspring to travel far relative to the spatial
scale of adult populations. As a result, the concept of LDD must
be examined carefully when applied in a marine context. Any measure
of LDD requires reference to an explicit 'local' scale, often defined
in terms of adult population demography, habitat patchiness, or the
average dispersal distance. Terms such as 'open' and 'closed' are
relative, and should be used with caution, especially when compared
across different taxa and systems. We use recently synthesized data
on marine propagule dispersal potential and the spread of marine
invasive species to draw inferences about average and maximum effective
dispersal distances for marine taxa. Foremost, our results indicate
that dispersal occurs at a wide range of scales in marine communities.
The nonrandom distribution of these scales among community members
has implications for marine community dynamics, and for the implementation
of marine conservation efforts. Second, in agreement with theoretical
results, our data illustrate that average and extreme dispersal scales
do not necessarily covary. This further confounds simple classifications
of 'short' and 'long' dispersers, because different ecological processes
(e. g. range expansion vs. population replenishment) depend on different
aspects of the dispersal pattern (e. g. extremes vs. average). Our
findings argue for a more rigorous quantitative view of scale in
the study of marine dispersal processes, where relative terms such
as 'short' and 'long', 'open' and 'closed', 'retained' and 'exported'
are defined only in conjunction with explicit definitions of the
scale and process of interest. This shift in perspective represents
an important step towards unifying theoretical and empirical studies
of dispersal processes in marine and terrestrial systems.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Biological invasions
  • Dispersal kernel
  • Invasive spread
  • Larval retention
  • Long-distance dispersal
  • Marine conservation
  • Pelagic larval duration
  • Spatial ecology

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  • Steven GainesUniversity of California Santa Barbara Bren School of Environmental Science & Management

  • Brian P. Kinlan

  • Sarah E. Lester

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