In addition to measuring simple density, further information about a population can be obtained by looking at the distribution of the individuals. Species dispersion patterns (or distribution patterns) show the spatial relationship between members of a population within a habitat at a particular point in time. In other words, they show whether members of the species live close together or far apart, and what patterns are evident when they are spaced apart.
Individuals in a population can be equally spaced apart, dispersed randomly with no predictable pattern, or clustered in groups. These are known as uniform, random, and clumped dispersion patterns, respectively (Figure). Uniform dispersion is observed in plants that secrete substances inhibiting the growth of nearby individuals (such as the release of toxic chemicals by the sage plant Salvia leucophylla, a phenomenon called allelopathy) and in animals like the penguin that maintain a defined territory. An example of random dispersion occurs with dandelion and other plants that have wind-dispersed seeds that germinate wherever they happen to fall in a favorable environment. A clumped dispersion may be seen in plants that drop their seeds straight to the ground, such as oak trees, or in animals that live in groups (schools of fish or herds of elephants). Clumped dispersions may also be a function of habitat heterogeneity. Thus, the dispersion of the individuals within a population provides more information about how they interact with each other than does a simple density measurement. Just as lower density species might have more difficulty finding a mate, solitary species with a random distribution might have a similar difficulty when compared to social species clumped together in groups.