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Density‐dependent dispersal and the formation of range borders.

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Knowledge about the mechanisms of range formation is crucial for scientifically based species conservation strategies in the face of ongoing global climate change. In recent years an increasing amount of studies have focused on the influences of density‐dependent dispersal on demographic and biogeographical patterns. However, it still remains unclear, to what extent and in what ways this strategy would affect the range formation of species. In order to fill this gap, we present a study using individual‐based simulations of a species with discrete generations living along a dispersal mortality gradient. We compare the evolution of range sizes for species following density‐dependent and density‐independent emigration. Furthermore we assess the influence of environmental stochasticity and Allee effects on range formation, as both processes are known to play an important role for dispersal evolution. We find that density‐dependent dispersal always results in much wider ranges than unconditional dispersal. Increasing environmental stochasticity, a predicted consequence of climate change, can remarkably expand the ranges of species living in such connectivity gradients if dispersal decisions are based on local population density. A strong Allee effect causes range contraction for both strategies, but the effect is considerably less dramatic under density‐dependent compared to density‐independent emigration. We strongly recommend accounting for these findings in future attempts to model species’ range shifts due to climate change.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: December 1, 2011

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