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Scale-dependence and mechanisms of dispersal in freshwater zooplankton


  • Galeet M. Cohen,

  • Jonathan B. Shurin

G. M. Cohen and J. B. Shurin, Dept of Ecology and Evolution, Univ. of Chicago, 1101 E. 57th St., Chicago, IL 60637, USA. Present address for JBS: Dept of Zoology, Univ. of British Columbia, 6270 University Blvd., Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada V6T 1Z4 (


Communities of organisms form as a result of both interspecific and abiotic interactions within local habitat patches and dispersal among patches in a region. Local processes are expected to play a dominant role when dispersal occurs much more often than extinction. We performed two field experiments to examine rates and mechanisms of dispersal in freshwater pond zooplankton communities. First, we tested the effect of distance from a source on the rate of colonization of artificial habitat by placing wading pools at 5, 10, 30 and 60 m from two natural fishless ponds and observing the succession of zooplankton. Seventy-eight percent of the species in the source ponds that were capable of living in the pools colonized at least once during the experiment. A new species was found in the pools on average once every four days, suggesting that colonization events occur on the order of days to weeks for many species. Colonization rates declined further from the source at one pond but not the other, and the effect of distance was relatively weak at both ponds. This suggests that many species disperse broadly over short distances. The second experiment tested the role of animal vectors for zooplankton dispersal by restricting access to the pools. Eight treatments were imposed that excluded potential animal vectors along a body size gradient from large mammals to small insects. While the treatments affected zooplankton colonization, many species invaded even when all animals larger than 1 mm were excluded. Animal vectors may therefore be less important for dispersal than wind. Our results suggest that zooplankton are highly effective dispersers over short distances, and can disperse via several mechanisms. Local interactions should therefore play a dominant role in structuring these communities at small regional scales.