Across taxa, individuals vary in how far they disperse, with most individuals staying close to their origin and fewer dispersing long distances. Costs associated with dispersal (e.g., energy, risk) are widely believed to trade off with benefits (e.g., reduced competition, increased reproductive success) to influence dispersal propensity. However, this framework has not been applied to understand variation in dispersal distance, which is instead generally attributed to extrinsic environmental factors. We alternatively hypothesized that variation in dispersal distances results from trade-offs associated with other aspects of locomotor performance. We tested this hypothesis in the stream salamander Gyrinophilus porphyriticus and found that salamanders that dispersed farther in the field had longer forelimbs but swam at slower velocities under experimental conditions. The reduced swimming performance of long-distance dispersers likely results from drag imposed by longer forelimbs. Longer forelimbs may facilitate moving longer distances, but the proximate costs associated with reduced swimming performance may help to explain the rarity of long-distance dispersal. The historical focus on environmental drivers of dispersal distances misses the importance of individual traits and associated trade-offs among traits affecting locomotion.
- dispersal distance
- plethodontid salamanders