Indexed on: 01 Mar '06Published on: 01 Mar '06Published in: BMC Ecology
Rare long distance dispersal events impact the demography and the genetic structure of populations. When dispersal is modelled via a dispersal kernel, one possible characterisation of long-distance dispersal is given by the shape of the tail of the kernel, i.e. its type of decay. This characteristic is known to directly act on the speed and pattern of colonization, and on the spatial structure of genetic diversity during colonization. In particular, colonization waves behave differently depending on whether the kernel decreases faster or slower than an exponential (i.e. is thin-tailed vs. fat-tailed). To interpret and extend published results on the impact of long-distance dispersal on the genetic structure of populations, we examine a classification of dispersal kernels based on the shape of their tails and formally demonstrate qualitative differences among them that can influence the predicted diversity of a propagule pool sampled far from two distinct sources.We show that a fat-tailed kernel leads asymptotically to a diverse propagule pool containing a balanced mixing of the propagules from the two sources, whereas a thin-tailed kernel results in all propagules originating from the closest source. We further show that these results hold for biologically relevant distances under certain circumstances, and in particular if the number of propagules is large enough, as would be the case for pollen or seeds.To understand the impact of long-distance dispersal on the structure and dynamics of a metapopulation, it might be less important to precisely estimate an average dispersal distance than to determine if the tail of the dispersal kernel is fatter or thinner than that of an exponential function. Depending solely on this characteristic, a metapopulation will behave similarly to an island model with a diverse immigrant pool or to a stepping-stone model with migrants from closest populations. Our results further help to understand why thin-tailed dispersal kernels lead to a colonization wave of constant speed, whereas fat-tailed dispersal kernels lead to a wave of increasing speed. Our results also suggest that the diversity of the pollen cloud of a mother plant should increase with increasing isolation for fat-tailed kernels, whereas it should decrease for thin-tailed kernels.