Connectivity and habitat type shape divergent dispersal behavior in a desert-dwelling fish

Abstract

Context

Dispersal has important fitness consequences for individuals, populations, and species. Despite growing theoretical insights into the evolution of dispersal, its behavioral underpinnings remain empirically understudied, limiting our understanding of the extent and impact of responses to landscape-level heterogeneity of environments, and increasing the risk of inferring species-level responses from biased population sampling.

Objectives

We asked if predictable ecological variation among naturally fragmented arid waterbodies is correlated with disparate dispersal responses of populations of the desert goby Chlamydogobius eremius, which naturally inhabits two habitat “types” (permanent springs, ephemeral rivers), and different levels of hydrological connectivity (high and low) that potentially convey different costs and benefits of dispersal.

Methods

To test for possible behavioral divergence between such populations, we experimentally compared the movement behaviors (correlates of emigration and exploration) of wild-caught fish. We used two biologically relevant spatial scales to test movement relevant to different stages of the dispersal process.

Results

Behavior differed at both spatial scales, suggesting that alternative dispersal strategies enable desert gobies to exploit diverse habitat patches. However, while emigration was best predicted by the connectivity (flood risk) of fish habitats, exploration was linked to their habitat type (spring versus river).

Conclusions

Our findings demonstrate that despite a complex picture of ecological variation, key landscape factors have an overarching effect on among-population variation in dispersal traits. Implications include the maintenance of within-species variation, potentially divergent evolutionary trajectories of naturally or anthropogenically isolated populations, and the direction of future experimental studies on the ecology and evolution of dispersal behavior.

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Acknowledgements

We acknowledge the traditional owners of the Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre region, and particularly thank Reg Dodd and Dean Ah Chee for valuable natural and cultural insights. Thanks to Matt Simpson for assistance with laboratory trials. Financial support was received from the Nature Foundation SA, the Holsworth Wildlife Endowment, and the Great Artesian Basin Coordinating Committee (to K.D.M.) and the Australian Research Council (DP120103010 to B.B.M.W.). Procedures for field sampling were approved by the Monash University Animal Ethics Committee (BSCI/2012/14), and the South Australian Department of Environment and Natural Resources granted collection permits (9902391, 9902523, and 9902598). We thank Diana Bowler and two additional referees for highly constructive comments on a prior version of this manuscript.

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Authors

Contributions

All authors were involved in conceiving project ideas, K.D.M. and B.B.M.W. obtained funding for the project, K.D.M. and N.P.M. collected and analysed the data, K.D.M. wrote the original manuscript, which was then edited by all other authors.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Krystina D. Mossop.

Additional information

Data accessibility: Behavioral data, species location data, and information on unique genetic variation not previously archived will be submitted to the appropriate repositories (Dryad and GenBank).

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Mossop, K.D., Moran, N.P., Chapple, D.G. et al. Connectivity and habitat type shape divergent dispersal behavior in a desert-dwelling fish. Landscape Ecol 32, 1065–1078 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10980-017-0509-8

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Keywords

  • Among-population variation
  • Intraspecific divergence
  • Aquatic connectivity
  • Lake Eyre Basin
  • Heterogeneity
  • Landscape