Are long-distance dispersal events in plants usually caused by nonstandard means of dispersal?

S. I. Higgins, R. Nathan, M. L. Cain

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

389 Scopus citations


It has been argued that nonstandard mechanisms of dispersal are often responsible for long-distance dispersal in plants. For example, plant seeds that appear to be adapted for wind dispersal may occasionally be dispersed long distances by birds, or vice versa. In this paper, we explore whether existing data on dispersal distances, colonization rates, and migration rates support the idea that dispersal processes suggested by the morphology of the dispersal unit are responsible for long distance dispersal. We conclude that the relationship between morphologically defined dispersal syndrome and long-distance dispersal is poor. This relationship is poor because the relationship between the morphology of dispersal units and the multiple processes that move seeds are often complex. We argue that understanding gleaned from the often anecdotal literature on nonstandard and standard means of long distance dispersal is the foundation for both statistical and mechanistic models of long-distance dispersal. Such models hold exciting promise for the development of a quantitative ecology of long-distance dispersal.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1945-1956
Number of pages12
Issue number8
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2003


  • Island colonization
  • Long-distance dispersal
  • Mechanistic dispersal models
  • Mixture models
  • Morphological dispersal syndrome

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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