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Distribution and protection of avian specialization in Europe

Benedetti Y, Morelli F, Callaghan CT & Fuller RA (2022) Distribution and protection of avian specialization in Europe. Global Ecology and Biogeography, 31, 10-24.

Aim: We assessed the spatial distribution of four different types of avian specialization throughout Europe, identifying landscape features associated with specialization and quantifying where the Natura 2000 network intersects with areas of high avian specialization.
Location: Europe.
Time period: Present day.
Taxa studied: European breeding birds.
Methods: We used the European Atlas of breeding birds and four avian specialization measures (diet, foraging behaviour, foraging substrate and habitat). We calculated
specialization richness and identified geographical hotspots for each of these ecological traits. We tested whether elevational gradient, landscape heterogeneity or dominant land use predicted each type of specialization richness. We determined which types of European protected areas are most associated with higher specialization richness.
Results: Diet and foraging substrate specialists increased with elevation, whereas richness of foraging behavioural specialists decreased. There was a greater richness of dietary and habitat specialists in forests than in other environments. The Natura 2000 areas declared under Bird and both directives (Birds and Habitats) intersected with a high dietary, foraging substrate and habitat specialist richness. The richness of foraging behaviour specialists was high in Birds directive areas. Single and multiple hotspots of specialization were greater in protected than non-protected areas. However, almost 30% of specialization hotspots did not intersect with protected areas.
Main conclusions: Our findings suggest that higher levels of avian specialization in Europe are positively associated with elevation and forested land cover. Importantly, we found that the Natura 2000 network supports all types of avian ecological specialization, albeit mainly in areas declared under both directives.

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