Defining and measuring ecological specialization
Article first published online: 21 DEC 2009
© 2009 The Authors. Journal compilation © 2009 British Ecological Society
Journal of Applied Ecology
Volume 47, Issue 1, pages 15–25, February 2010
How to Cite
Devictor, V., Clavel, J., Julliard, R., Lavergne, S., Mouillot, D., Thuiller, W., Venail, P., Villéger, S. and Mouquet, N. (2010), Defining and measuring ecological specialization. Journal of Applied Ecology, 47: 15–25. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2664.2009.01744.x
- Issue published online: 29 JAN 2010
- Article first published online: 21 DEC 2009
- Received 9 July 2009; accepted 17 November 2009 Handling Editor: Marc Cadotte
- biotic homogenization;
- ecological niche;
- niche breadth;
- niche metrics;
- species distribution models
1. Ecological specialization is one of the main concepts in ecology and conservation. However, this concept has become highly context-dependent and is now obscured by the great variability of existing definitions and methods used to characterize ecological specialization.
2. In this study, we clarify this concept by reviewing the strengths and limitations of different approaches commonly used to define and measure ecological specialization. We first show that ecological specialization can either be considered as reflecting species’ requirements or species’ impacts. We then explain how specialization depends on species-specific characteristics and on local and contingent environmental constraints. We further show why and how ecological specialization should be scaled across spatial and temporal scales, and from individuals to communities.
3. We then illustrate how this review can be used as a practical toolbox to classify widely used metrics of ecological specialization in applied ecology, depending on the question being addressed, the method used, and the data available.
4. Synthesis and applications. Clarifying ecological specialization is useful to make explicit connections between several fields of ecology using the niche concept. Defining this concept and its practical metrics is also a crucial step to better formulate predictions of scientific interest in ecology and conservation. Finally, understanding the different facets of ecological specialization should facilitate to investigate the causes and consequences of biotic homogenization and to derive relevant indicators of biodiversity responses to land-use changes.