Despite an upsurge of interest in spatial interactions between communities and in the impact of dispersal on ecological and evolutionary processes, dispersal patterns and dynamics in natural metacommunities remain poorly understood. Although passive aerial dispersal of freshwater invertebrates is generally accepted, the frequency and relative importance of wind as a vector is still subject of considerable debate. We assessed the importance of wind dispersal in an invertebrate metacommunity in a cluster of 36 temporary rock pools on an isolated mountaintop in South Africa. Wind dispersal was quantified every four days using nine windsocks (about 1.5 m above rock base), placed in the field during one month. Distance to the nearest pool varied from 2 up to 16 m. Wind direction and speed were monitored for the entire period. About 850 propagules (mostly resting eggs) of 17 taxa were captured. The presence of water in the pools (level of exposure of the dormant propagule bank) and the dominant wind direction were the key factors affecting the yield. Wind speed was much less important.
Our results suggest that wind dispersal of propagules from temporary aquatic systems is more frequent than previously thought. This may stabilise the metacommunity by mediating gene flow among populations and facilitating rapid (re)colonisation of patches. On the other hand, wind erosion of the dormant propagule bank may lead to egg bank depletion and local extinction.
The measured frequent wind dispersal most likely fuels strong species sorting processes ultimately shaping the structure of the local communities as observed in an earlier study. To elucidate the link between local dispersal rates and their contribution to long range dispersal is a major challenge for future research on aerial dispersal of aquatic invertebrates.