Is dispersal neutral?

Winsor H. Lowe, Mark A. McPeek

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

175 Scopus citations


Dispersal is difficult to quantify and often treated as purely stochastic and extrinsically controlled. Consequently, there remains uncertainty about how individual traits mediate dispersal and its ecological effects. Addressing this uncertainty is crucial for distinguishing neutral versus non-neutral drivers of community assembly. Neutral theory assumes that dispersal is stochastic and equivalent among species. This assumption can be rejected on principle, but common research approaches tacitly support the 'neutral dispersal' assumption. Theory and empirical evidence that dispersal traits are under selection should be broadly integrated in community-level research, stimulating greater scrutiny of this assumption. A tighter empirical connection between the ecological and evolutionary forces that shape dispersal will enable richer understanding of this fundamental process and its role in community assembly.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)444-450
Number of pages7
JournalTrends in Ecology and Evolution
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2014


  • Community ecology
  • Dispersal
  • Evolution
  • Gene flow
  • Population biology


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