Context: Dispersal has important fitness consequences for individuals, populations, and species. Despite growing theoretical insights into the evolution of dispersal, its behavioral underpinnings remain empirically understudied, limiting our understanding of the extent and impact of responses to landscape-level heterogeneity of environments, and increasing the risk of inferring species-level responses from biased population sampling.
Objectives: We asked if predictable ecological variation among naturally fragmented arid waterbodies is correlated with disparate dispersal responses of populations of the desert goby Chlamydogobius eremius, which naturally inhabits two habitat “types” (permanent springs, ephemeral rivers), and different levels of hydrological connectivity (high and low) that potentially convey different costs and benefits of dispersal.
Methods: To test for possible behavioral divergence between such populations, we experimentally compared the movement behaviors (correlates of emigration and exploration) of wild-caught fish. We used two biologically relevant spatial scales to test movement relevant to different stages of the dispersal process. Results: Behavior differed at both spatial scales, suggesting that alternative dispersal strategies enable desert gobies to exploit diverse habitat patches. However, while emigration was best predicted by the connectivity (flood risk) of fish habitats, exploration was linked to their habitat type (spring versus river).
Conclusions: Our findings demonstrate that despite a complex picture of ecological variation, key landscape factors have an overarching effect on among-population variation in dispersal traits. Implications include the maintenance of within-species variation, potentially divergent evolutionary trajectories of naturally or anthropogenically isolated populations, and the direction of future experimental studies on the ecology and evolution of dispersal behavior.
- Among-population variation
- Aquatic connectivity
- Intraspecific divergence
- Lake Eyre Basin