Defining and measuring ecological specialization

Authors

  • Vincent Devictor,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Zoology, Edward Grey Institute, University of Oxford, Oxford OX1 3PS, UK
    2. Centre de recherche, Tour du Valat. Le Sambuc, 13200 Arles, France
    3. Institut des Sciences de l’Evolution, UMR CNRS-UM2 5119, Université Montpellier 2, Place Eugène Bataillon, 34095 Montpellier Cedex 05, France
      *Correspondence author. E-mail: vincent.devictor@univ-montp2.fr
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  • Joanne Clavel,

    1. Conservation Restauration et Suivi des Populations, UMR CNRS-MNHN-UPMC 5173. 55 rue Buffon, 75005 Paris, France
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  • Romain Julliard,

    1. Conservation Restauration et Suivi des Populations, UMR CNRS-MNHN-UPMC 5173. 55 rue Buffon, 75005 Paris, France
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  • Sébastien Lavergne,

    1. Laboratoire d’Ecologie Alpine, UMR CNRS 5553, Université J. Fourier, BP 53, 38041 Grenoble Cedex 9, France
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  • David Mouillot,

    1. Laboratoire Ecosystèmes Lagunaires, UMR CNRS-UM2 5119, Université Montpellier 2, 34095 Montpellier Cedex 5, France
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  • Wilfried Thuiller,

    1. Laboratoire d’Ecologie Alpine, UMR CNRS 5553, Université J. Fourier, BP 53, 38041 Grenoble Cedex 9, France
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  • Patrick Venail,

    1. Institut des Sciences de l’Evolution, UMR CNRS-UM2 5119, Université Montpellier 2, Place Eugène Bataillon, 34095 Montpellier Cedex 05, France
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  • Sébastien Villéger,

    1. Laboratoire Ecosystèmes Lagunaires, UMR CNRS-UM2 5119, Université Montpellier 2, 34095 Montpellier Cedex 5, France
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  • Nicolas Mouquet

    1. Institut des Sciences de l’Evolution, UMR CNRS-UM2 5119, Université Montpellier 2, Place Eugène Bataillon, 34095 Montpellier Cedex 05, France
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*Correspondence author. E-mail: vincent.devictor@univ-montp2.fr

Summary

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.

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