Effects of aerial dispersal, habitat specialisation, and landscape structure on spider distribution across fragmented grey dunes


  • D. Bonte,

  • L. Baert,

  • L. Lens,

  • J.-P. Maelfait

D. Bonte (dries.bonte@ugent.be), L. Lens and J.-P. Maelfait, Terrestrial Ecology Unit, Dept of Biology, Univ. of Ghent, K. L. Ledeganckstraat 35, B-9000 Ghent, Belgium.


Species distribution patterns have been explained by Hutchinson's niche theory, metapopulation theory and source-sink theory. Empirical verification of this framework, however, remains surprisingly scant. In this paper, we test the hypothesis that landscape characteristics (patch size and connectivity), aerial dispersal ability and niche breadth interact in explaining distribution patterns of 29 spider species inhabiting fragmented grey dunes. Distribution patterns only depended on aerial dispersal potential, and the interaction between patch connectivity and area. Niche breadth, measured as the degree of habitat specialisation in the total coastal dune system, did not contribute to the observed distribution patterns. Additional variation in patch occupancy frequency was strongly species-dependent and was determined by different responses to the degree of patch connectivity for ballooning dispersal. Results from this study suggest that dispersal ability largely affects our perception of a species “fundamental niche”, and that source-sink and metapopulation dynamics may have a major impact on the distribution of species. From a conservation point of view, specialised (and hence intrinsically rare) species can be predicted to become rarer if fragmentation increases and connectivity decreases. This study is, to our knowledge, one of the few linking species distribution (and not patch occupancy, species diversity or richness) to landscape ecological (patch connectivity and area) and auto-ecological (niche breadth, dispersal potential) features.