Recent advances in the study of long-distance dispersal of aquatic invertebrates via birds


Correspondence: Andy J. Green, Estación Biológica de Doñana, Avda. María Luisa s/n, 41013 Sevilla, Spain. E-mail:


Although Darwin pioneered the study of long-distance dispersal (LDD) of aquatic invertebrates via waterbirds, it remains in its infancy as a modern discipline. A handful of recent studies have quantified internal or external transport in the field, confirming that a variety of long-distance migrants carry invertebrates both internally and externally. These studies show that variation in the morphology of vectors influences the frequency and size of propagules transported, and suggest that more invertebrate groups disperse via birds than was previously thought. Dispersal limitation has mainly been investigated for zooplankton in small experimental systems from which waterbirds were effectively excluded, and the extent of such limitation for invertebrate populations in wetlands interconnected by waterbird movements remains unclear. We expect that the spatial and temporal scales at which dispersal limitation constrains geographical ranges, species richness and genetic structure of invertebrates depends partly on the density of migratory birds using the area. Birds may have a major role in the expansion of exotic species. We propose several avenues for future research. There is a particular need for more quantitative studies of LDD by birds that will enable modellers to assess its role in maintaining invertebrate biodiversity among increasingly fragmented wetlands and in the face of climate change, as well as in the spread of invasive species.