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Measuring avian specialization

Morelli F, Benedetti Y, Møller AP & Fuller RA (2019) Measuring avian specialization. Ecology and Evolution, 9, 8378-8386.

Measuring the extent to which a species is specialized is a major challenge in ecology, with important repercussions for fundamental research as well as for applied ecology and conservation. Here, we develop a multidimensional index of specialization based on five sets of ecological characteristics of breeding bird species. We used two recent databases of species traits of European birds based on foraging ecology, habitat, and breeding characteristics. The indices of specialization were calculated by applying the Gini coefficient, an index of inequality. The Gini coefficient is a measure of statistical dispersion on a scale between 0 and 1, reflecting a gradient from low to high specialization, respectively. Finally, we tested the strength of the phylogenetic signal of each specialization index to understand how the variance of such indices is shared throughout the phylogeny. The methods for constructing and evaluating a multidimensional index of bird specialization could also be applied to other taxa and regions, offering a simple but useful tool, particularly suited for global or biogeographic studies, as a contribution to comparative estimates of the degree of specialization of species.

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