• colonization success;
  • corridor;
  • dispersal propensity;
  • dispersal success;
  • timing of emigration;
  • inter- and intraspecific competition;
  • metapopulation dynamics;
  • Metatron;
  • Pieris brassicae


  1. Sex-biased dispersal, that is, the difference in dispersal between males and females, is thought to be the consequence of any divergent evolutionary responses between sexes. In anisogamous species, asymmetry in parental investment may lead to sexual conflict, which entails male–male competition (for sexual partner access), female–female competition (for feeding or egg-laying habitat patches) and/or male–female competition (antagonistic co-evolution).

  2. As competition is one of the main causes of dispersal evolution, intra- and intersexual competition should have strong consequences on sex-biased dispersal. However, very few experimental studies, if any, have simultaneously addressed the effect of biased sex ratio on (i) each dispersal stage (emigration, transience, immigration), (ii) the dispersal phenotype and (iii) the colonization success of new habitat in order to fully separate the effects of varying male and female density.

  3. Here, we used the Metatron, a unique experimental system composed of 48 interconnected enclosed patches dedicated to the study of dispersal in meta-ecosystems, to investigate the effect of sex ratio on dispersal in a butterfly. We created six populations with three different sex ratios in pairs of patches and recorded individual movements in these simple metapopulations.

  4. Emigration was higher when the proportion of males was higher, and individuals reached the empty patch at a higher rate when the sex ratio in the departure patch was balanced. Males had a better dispersal success than females, which had a lower survival rate during dispersal and after colonization. We also showed that sex and wing size are major components of the dispersal response.

  5. We did not observe sex-biased dispersal; our results thus suggest that female harassment by males and male–male competition might be more important mechanisms for the dispersal of females and males, than the search for a mating partner. Furthermore, the demonstration of a differential mortality between males and females during dispersal provides causal hypotheses of the evolution of sex-biased dispersal.