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Density-dependent dispersal and the speed of range expansions

Altwegg, R.; Collingham, Y.C.; Erni, B.; Huntley, B.

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R. Altwegg

Y.C. Collingham

B. Erni

B. Huntley


Aim The speed of range expansions, be it invasive species colonizing a new area or species tracking a moving climatic niche, critically depends on dispersal. Models for species' range expansions generally assume dispersal to be independent of local population densities. However, animals often disperse in response to high population size or alternatively may avoid or leave areas of very low population sizes. We explore whether such density dependence in dispersal can safely be ignored when predicting the speed of range expansions. Location Simulation study. Methods We use simulations to examine the effect of different forms of density dependence in emigration and immigration on the speed of range expansions. For emigration, we consider linear and nonlinear forms of positive density dependence, negative density dependence at low population densities and constant emigration rates. For immigration, we consider options where individuals avoid crowded patches, are attracted to the presence of conspecifics or settle independent of local density. Results The speed of range expansion was slowest when emigration was strongly positively related to density (higher emigration at higher densities) and when individuals avoided settling in low-density patches. It tended to be fastest under negatively density-dependent emigration (higher emigration at lower densities). These results were consistent across two different life histories and different levels of carrying capacity. Main conclusions Our results suggest that considering density-dependent dispersal and the mechanisms leading to it are important for correctly predicting species' rates of spread. Organisms with a tendency to aggregate, for example, by relying on conspecific attraction in settlement and emigrating mainly in response to high local densities, are predicted to be least likely to expand their ranges and most at risk from spatial shifts in their climatic niches.


Altwegg, R., Collingham, Y., Erni, B., & Huntley, B. (2013). Density-dependent dispersal and the speed of range expansions. Diversity and Distributions, 19(1), 60-68.

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date Jan 1, 2013
Deposit Date May 10, 2013
Publicly Available Date Jun 4, 2014
Journal Diversity and Distributions
Print ISSN 1366-9516
Electronic ISSN 1472-4642
Publisher Wiley Open Access
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 19
Issue 1
Pages 60-68
Keywords Allee effect, Climate change, Density-dependent emigration, Density-dependent immigration, Global change, Invasion, Range expansion, Settlement, Simulation model.


Accepted Journal Article (602 Kb)

Copyright Statement
This is the peer reviewed version of the following article: Altwegg, R., Collingham, Y. C., Erni, B. and Huntley, B. (2013), Density-dependent dispersal and the speed of range expansions. Diversity and Distributions, 19 (1): 60–68, which has been published in final form at This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance With Wiley Terms and Conditions for self-archiving.

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