Get access

Biotic homogenization: a new research agenda for conservation biogeography


*Correspondence and present address: Julian D. Olden, School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences, University of Washington, Box 355020, Seattle, WA 98195, USA.


Aim  Biotic homogenization describes the process by which species invasions and extinctions increase the genetic, taxonomic or functional similarity of two or more biotas over a specified time interval. The study of biotic homogenization is a young and rapidly emerging research area in the budding field of conservation biogeography, and this paper aims to synthesize our current knowledge of this process and advocate a more systematic approach to its investigation.

Methods  Based on a comprehensive examination of the primary literature this paper reviews the process of biotic homogenization, including its definition, quantification, underlying ecological mechanisms, environmental drivers, the empirical evidence for different taxonomic groups, and the potential ecological and evolutionary implications. Important gaps in our knowledge are then identified, and areas of new research that show the greatest promise for advancing our current thinking on biotic homogenization are highlighted.

Results  Current knowledge of the patterns, mechanisms and implications of biotic homogenization is highly variable across taxonomic groups, but in general is incomplete. Quantitative estimates are almost exclusively limited to freshwater fishes and plants in the United States, and the principal mechanisms and drivers of homogenization remain elusive. To date research has focused on taxonomic homogenization, and genetic and functional homogenization has received inadequate attention. Trends over the past decade, however, suggest that biotic homogenization is emerging as a topic of greater research interest.

Main conclusions  My investigation revealed a number of important knowledge gaps and priority research needs in the science of biotic homogenization. Future studies should examine the homogenization process for different community properties (species occurrence and abundance) at multiple spatial and temporal scales, with careful attention paid to the various biological mechanisms (invasions vs. extinctions) and environmental drivers (environmental alteration vs. biotic interactions) involved. Perhaps most importantly, this research should recognize that there are multiple possible outcomes resulting from the accumulation of species invasions and extinctions, including biotic differentiation whereby genetic, taxonomic or functional similarity of biotas decreases over time.