Dispersal and natural enemies interact to drive spatial synchrony and decrease stability in patchy populations


*E-mail: michael.brockhurst@liverpool.ac.uk


Spatial synchrony is widespread in natural populations but the mechanisms that underpin it are not yet fully understood. Two key biotic drivers of spatial synchrony have been identified: dispersal and trophic interactions (e.g. natural enemies). We used spatially structured, patchy bacterial populations to show that although increased dispersal always enhanced spatial synchrony of fluctuations in bacterial abundance, this effect was far stronger in the presence of a bacteriophage parasite. Bacteriophages drove strong within patch fluctuations in bacterial abundance that became phase locked through dispersal. Furthermore, the way in which stability, measured as constancy, responded to increasing dispersal was qualitatively different depending on whether parasites were present or not. Patch-level constancy decreased with dispersal in the presence of parasites, whereas dispersal increased patch-level constancy in the absence of parasites. Population-level constancy also decreased with dispersal in the presence of parasites, but was unaffected by dispersal in the absence of parasites. These contrasting patterns were likely due to the different role played by dispersal in the presence and absence of parasites, synchronizing dynamics in the former case and averaging stochastic fluctuations in the latter. Taken together, our findings suggest that dispersal and natural enemies can interact to drive spatially synchronous population fluctuations that decrease stability at both the patch and population level.