Recent global changes have decoupled species richness from specialization patterns in North American birds

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Aim Theory suggests that increasing productivity and climate stability towards the tropics favours specialization, thus contributing to the latitudinal richness gradient. A positive relationship between species richness and specialization should therefore emerge as a fundamental biogeographical pattern. However, land-use and climate changes disproportionally increase the local extirpation risk for specialists, potentially weakening the relationship between richness and specialization. Here, we quantify empirically the richness-specialization prediction and test how 50 years of climate and land-use change has affected the richness-specialization relationship. Location USA. Time period 1966-2015. Major taxa studied Birds. Methods We used the North American Breeding Bird Survey to quantify bird community richness and specialization to habitat and climate. We (a) quantify temporal change in the slope of the richness-specialization relationship, using a generalized mixed model; (b) assess how this change translates spatially, using generalized additive models; and (c) attribute spatio-temporal change in the richness-specialization relationship to land use, climate and topographic drivers. Results We found evidence for a positive but weak richness-specialization relationship in bird communities that greatly weakened over time. Given that specialization was not the main driver of richness, this relationship did not translate spatially into a linear spatial covariation between richness and specialization. Instead, the spatial covariation in richness and specialization followed a unimodal pattern, the peak of which shifted towards less specialized communities over time. These temporal changes were associated with precipitation change, decreasing temperature stability and land use. Main conclusions Recent climate and land-use changes have induced two contrasting types of community responses. In human-dominated areas, the decoupling of richness and specialization drove a general trend for biotic homogenization. In areas of low human impact experiencing increasing climate harshness, specialization increased, whereas richness decreased. Our results offer new support for specialization as a key driver of macroecological diversity patterns and show that global changes are weakening this fundamental macroecological pattern.

TidsskriftGlobal Ecology and Biogeography
Sider (fra-til)1621-1635
Antal sider15
StatusUdgivet - nov. 2019

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