As the single opportunity for plants to move, seed dispersal has an important impact on plant fitness, species distributions and patterns of biodiversity. However, models that predict dynamics such as risk of extinction, range shifts and biodiversity loss tend to rely on the mean value of parameters and rarely incorporate realistic dispersal mechanisms. By focusing on the mean population value, variation among individuals or variability caused by complex spatial and temporal dynamics is ignored. This calls for increased efforts to understand individual variation in dispersal and integrate it more explicitly into population and community models involving dispersal. However, the sources, magnitude and outcomes of intraspecific variation in dispersal are poorly characterized, limiting our understanding of the role of dispersal in mediating the dynamics of communities and their response to global change. In this manuscript, we synthesize recent research that examines the sources of individual variation in dispersal and emphasize its implications for plant fitness, populations and communities. We argue that this intraspecific variation in seed dispersal does not simply add noise to systems, but, in fact, alters dispersal processes and patterns with consequences for demography, communities, evolution and response to anthropogenic changes. We conclude with recommendations for moving this field of research forward.
Read the article in AoB Plants.