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Keywords:

  • Behaviour;
  • coevolution;
  • competition;
  • constraints;
  • environment;
  • mutualism;
  • niche;
  • parasitism;
  • predation;
  • specialisation;
  • species interactions

Ecology Letters (2011) 14: 841–851

Abstract

Ecological specialisation concerns all species and underlies many major ecological and evolutionary patterns. Yet its status as a unifying concept is not always appreciated because of its similarity to concepts of the niche, the many levels of biological phenomena to which it applies, and the complexity of the mechanisms influencing it. The evolution of specialisation requires the coupling of constraints on adaptive evolution with covariation of genotype and environmental performance. This covariation itself depends upon organismal properties such as dispersal behaviour and life history and complexity in the environment stemming from factors such as species interactions and spatio-temporal heterogeneity in resources. Here, we develop a view on specialisation that integrates across the range of biological phenomena with the goal of developing a more predictive conceptual framework that specifically accounts for the importance of biotic complexity and coevolutionary events.