1. In times of ongoing habitat fragmentation, the persistence of many species is determined by their dispersal abilities. Consequently, understanding the rules underlying movement between habitat patches is a key issue in conservation ecology.
2. We have analysed mark-release-recapture (MRR) data on inter-patches movements of the Dusky Large Blue butterfly Maculinea nausithous in a fragmented landscape in northern Bavaria, Germany. The aim of the analysis was to quantify distance dependence of dispersal as well as to evaluate the effect of target patch area on immigration probability. For statistical evaluation, we apply a ‘reduced version’ of the virtual migration model (VM), only fitting parameters for dispersal distance and immigration. In contrast to other analyses, we fit a mixed dispersal kernel to the MRR data.
3. A large fraction of recaptures happened in other habitat patches than those where individuals were initially caught. Further, we found significant evidence for the presence of a mixed dispersal kernel. The results indicate that individuals follow different strategies in their movements. Most movements are performed over small distances, nonetheless involving travelling between nearby habitat patches (median distance c. 480 m). A small fraction (c. 0·025) of the population has a tendency to move over larger distances (median distance c. 3800 m). Further, immigration was positively affected by patch area (I∼Aζ), with the scaling parameter ζ = 0·5.
4. Our findings should help to resolve the long-lasting dispute over the suitability of the negative exponential function vs. inverse-power one for modelling dispersal. Previous studies on various organisms found that the former typically gives better overall fit to empirical distance distributions, but that the latter better represents long-distance movement probabilities. As long-distance movements are more important for landscape-level effects and thus, e.g. for conservation-oriented analyses like PVAs, fitting inverse-power kernels has often been preferred.
5. We conclude that the above discrepancy may simply stem from the fact that recorded inter-patch movements are an outcome of two different processes: daily routine movements and genuine dispersal. Consequently, applying mixed dispersal kernels to disentangle the two processes is recommended.