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Is the enhanced dispersal rate seen at invasion fronts a behaviourally plastic response to encountering novel ecological conditions?

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journal contribution
posted on 21.09.2016 by Lachlan J. Pettit, Matthew J. Greenlees, Richard Shine
As a population expands into novel areas (as occurs in biological invasions), the range edge becomes dominated by rapidly dispersing individuals—thereby accelerating the rate of population spread. That acceleration has been attributed to evolutionary processes (natural selection and spatial sorting), to which we add a third complementary process: behavioural plasticity. Encountering environmental novelty may directly elicit an increased rate of dispersal. When we reciprocally translocated cane toads (Rhinella marina) among study sites in southern Australia, the transported animals massively increased dispersal rates relative to residents (to an extent similar to the evolved increase between range-core versus invasion-front toad populations in Australia). The responses of these translocated toads show that even range-core toads are capable of the long-distance dispersal rates of invasion-front conspecifics and suggest that rapid dispersal (rather than evolving de novo) has simply been expanded from facultative to constitutive expression.