1. Random dispersal leads to spatial coexistence via two mechanisms (emigration-mediated and source–sink), both of which involve the movement of organisms from areas of higher to lower fitness. What is not known is whether such coexistence would occur if organisms dispersed non-randomly, using cues such as density and habitat quality to gauge fitness differences between habitats. Here, I conduct a comparative analysis of random and non-random dispersal strategies in a foodweb with a basal resource, top predator, and two intermediate consumers that exhibit a trade-off between competitive ability and predator susceptibility.
2. I find a striking contrast between density- and habitat-dependent dispersal in their effects on spatial coexistence. Dispersal in response to competitor and predator density facilitates coexistence while dispersal in response to habitat quality (resource productivity and predator pressure) inhibits it. Moreover, density-dependent dispersal changes species’ distribution patterns from interspecific segregation to interspecific aggregation, while habitat-dependent dispersal preserves the interspecific segregation observed in the absence of dispersal. Under density-dependent dispersal, widespread spatial coexistence results in an overall decline in the abundance of the inferior competitor that is less susceptible to predation and an overall increase in the abundance of the superior competitor that is more susceptible to predation. Under habitat-dependent dispersal, restricted spatial coexistence results in species’ abundances being essentially unchanged from those observed in the absence of dispersal.
3. A key outcome is that when the superior competitor moves in the direction of increasing fitness but the inferior competitor does not, spatial coexistence is possible in both resource-poor and resource-rich habitats. However, when the inferior competitor moves in the direction of increasing fitness but the superior competitor does not, spatial coexistence is precluded in resource-poor habitats and greatly reduced in resource-rich habitats. This suggests that species-specific differences may play an important role in driving spatial coexistence patterns.
4. The comparative framework yields predictions that can be tested with experiments that manipulate the relative mobilities of interacting species, or observational data on relative abundances and distribution patterns.