The evolution of dispersal – the importance of information about population density and habitat characteristics


  • Karin Enfjäll,

  • Olof Leimar

K. Enfjäll and O. Leimar (, Dept of Zoology, Stockholm Univ., SE–106 91 Stockholm, Sweden.


The evolution of mobility patterns and dispersal strategies depend on different population, habitat and life history characteristics. The ability to perceive and make use of information about the surrounding environment for dispersal decisions will also differ between organisms. To investigate the evolutionary consequences of such differences, we have used a simulation model with nearest-neighbour dispersal in a metapopulation to study how variation in the ability to obtain and make use of information about habitat quality and conspecific density affects the evolution of dispersal strategies. We found a rather strong influence of variation in information on the overall rate of dispersal in a metapopulation. The highest emigration rate evolved in organisms with no information about either density or habitat quality and the lowest rate was found in organisms with information about both the natal and the neighbouring patches. For organisms that can make use of information about conspecific density, positively density-dependent dispersal evolved in the majority of cases, with the strongest density dependence occurring when an individual only has information about density in the natal patch. However, we also identified situations, involving strong local population fluctuations and frequent local extinctions, where negatively density-dependent dispersal evolved.