Dispersal of aquatic organisms by waterbirds: a review of past research and priorities for future studies


J. Figuerola Department of Applied Biology, Estación Biológica de Doñana, CSIC, Avda. María Luisa s/n, E-41013 Sevilla, Spain. E-mail: jordi@ebd.csic.es


1. Inland wetlands constitute ecological islands of aquatic habitat often isolated by huge areas of non-suitable terrestrial habitats. Although most aquatic organisms lack the capacity to disperse by themselves to neighbouring catchments, many species present widespread distributions consistent with frequent dispersal by migratory waterbirds.

2. A literature review indicates that bird-mediated passive transport of propagules of aquatic invertebrates and plants is a frequent process in the field, at least at a local scale. Both endozoochory (internal transport) and ectozoochory (external transport) are important processes.

3. The characteristics of the dispersed and the disperser species that facilitate such transport remain largely uninvestigated, but a small propagule size tends to favour dispersal by both internal and external transport.

4. We review the information currently available on the processes of waterbird-mediated dispersal, establishing the limits of current knowledge and highlighting problems with research methods used in previous studies. We also identify studies required in the future to further our understanding of the role of such dispersal in aquatic ecology.