Dispersal potential in plant communities depends on environmental conditions

W.A. Ozinga, R.M. Bekker, J.H.J. Schaminée, J.M. van Groenendael

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157 Citations (Scopus)


Local plant communities can only function within a metacommunity context if they are connected by appropriate dispersal vectors, accommodating the transport of propagules between sites. The capacity for long-distance dispersal may be a key factor in the survival of local populations, especially in fragmented landscapes, and hence may have a large impact on local species composition. Dispersal vectors with a large efficiency for long-distance dispersal included in this study are: water, wind, large mammals and birds. We tested the hypothesis that variation in dispersal traits across plant communities is related to the position of the communities along major environmental gradients. This hypothesis was tested for (i) separate long-distance dispersal vectors and (ii) multiple dispersal vectors (the number of potential long-distance dispersal vectors per species). To quantify linkages between dispersal traits and environmental gradients, we coupled a data base containing dispersal attributes with another data base, containing 40 000 local vegetation descriptions aggregated into 123 plant communities. For each dispersal vector, the proportions of species that have access to this vector per community (weighted trait scores) were projected along three major environmental gradients: soil moisture, nutrient availability and light availability. The potential importance of individual dispersal vectors showed clear differences along the three environmental gradients, with the greatest differences along the light availability gradient. The differences in dispersal traits probably reflect environmental constraints on the availability or efficiency of individual dispersal vectors. The ability to be dispersed by multiple dispersal vectors is a common phenomenon in most plant communities (an average of 2.15 vectors per species). The mean number of potential long-distance dispersal vectors per species increases with light availability. This probably implies that plant communities differ in their response to both habitat fragmentation and habitat restoration. Despite differences in trait spectra among communities, all dispersal syndromes are represented in nearly all communities. An important consequence of this complementarity in dispersal traits is that species within the same community may experience different connectivity. The results emphasize the need for dispersal models based upon multiple dispersal vectors that explicitly include parameters for habitat characteristics.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)767-777
JournalJournal of Ecology
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2004


  • long-distance dispersal
  • seed dispersal
  • wind dispersal
  • indicator values
  • population-size
  • life-history
  • grassland
  • ecology
  • mass
  • coexistence


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