On defining and quantifying biotic homogenization


*Correspondence: J. D. Olden, Center for Limnology, University of Wisconsin–Madison, 680 Park Street N., Madison, WI 53706, USA. E-mail: olden@wisc.edu


Ongoing species invasions and extinctions are changing biological diversity in different ways at different spatial scales. Biotic homogenization (or BH) refers to the process by which the genetic, taxonomic or functional similarities of regional biotas increase over time. It is a multifaceted process that encompasses species invasions, extinctions and environmental alterations, focusing on how the identities of species (or their genetic or functional attributes) change over space and time. Despite the increasing use of the term BH in conservation biology, it is often used erroneously as a synonym for patterns of species invasions, loss of native species or changes in species richness through time. This reflects the absence of an agreed-upon, cogent definition of BH. Here, we offer an operational definition for BH and review the various methodologies used to study this process. We identify the strengths and weaknesses of these approaches, and make explicit recommendations for future studies. We conclude by citing the need for researchers to: (1) consider carefully the definition of BH by recognizing the genetic, taxonomic and functional realms of this process; (2) recognize that documenting taxonomic homogenization requires tracking the identity of species (not species richness) comprising biotas through space and time; and (3) employ more rigorous methods for quantifying BH.