There is accumulating evidence that individuals leave their natal area and select a breeding habitat non-randomly by relying upon information about their natal and future breeding environments. This variation in dispersal is not only based on external information (condition dependence) but also depends upon the internal state of individuals (phenotype dependence). As a consequence, not all dispersers are of the same quality or search for the same habitats. In addition, the individual’s state is characterized by morphological, physiological or behavioural attributes that might themselves serve as a cue altering the habitat choice of conspecifics. These combined effects of internal and external information have the potential to generate complex movement patterns and could influence population dynamics and colonization processes. Here, we highlight three particular processes that link condition-dependent dispersal, phenotype-dependent dispersal and habitat choice strategies: (1) the relationship between the cause of departure and the dispersers’ phenotype; (2) the relationship between the cause of departure and the settlement behaviour and (3) the concept of informed dispersal, where individuals gather and transfer information before and during their movements through the landscape. We review the empirical evidence for these processes with a special emphasis on vertebrate and arthropod model systems, and present case studies that have quantified the impacts of these processes on spatially structured population dynamics. We also discuss recent literature providing strong evidence that individual variation in dispersal has an important impact on both reinforcement and colonization success and therefore must be taken into account when predicting ecological responses to global warming and habitat fragmentation.
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