Impacts of urbanisation on biodiversity: the role of species mobility, degree of specialisation and spatial scale

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Abstract

Urbanisation has an important impact on biodiversity, mostly driving changes in species assemblages, through the replacement of specialist with generalist species, thus leading to biotic homogenisation. Mobility is also assumed to greatly affect species' ability to cope in urban environments. Moreover, specialisation, mobility and their interaction are expected to greatly influence ecological processes such as metacommunity dynamics and assembly processes, and consequently the way and the spatial scale at which organisms respond to urbanisation. Here we investigate urbanisation impacts on distinct characteristics of species assemblages – namely specialisation degree in resource use, mobility and number of species, classified according to both characteristics and their combination – for vascular plants, butterflies and birds, across a range of spatial scales (from 1 × 1 km plots to 5 km-radius buffers around them).

We found that the degree of specialisation, mobility and their interaction, greatly influenced species' responses to urbanisation, with highly mobile specialist species of all taxonomic groups being affected most. Two different patterns were found: for plants, urbanisation induced trait divergence by favouring highly mobile species with narrow habitat ranges. For birds and butterflies, however, it reduced the number of highly mobile specialist species, thus driving trait convergence. Mobile organisms, across and within taxonomic groups, tended to respond at larger spatial scales than those that are poorly mobile. These findings emphasize the need to take into consideration species' ecological aspects, as well as a wide range of spatial scales when evaluating the impact of urbanisation on biodiversity. Our results also highlight the harmful impact of widespread urban expansion on organisms such as butterflies, especially highly mobile specialists, which were negatively affected by urban areas even at great distances.

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