Ecological strategies in stable and disturbed environments depend on species specialisation

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Ecological strategies are integral to understanding species survival in different environments. However, how habitat specialisation is involved in such strategies is not fully understood, particularly in heterogeneous and disturbed environments. Here, we studied the trait associations between specialisation, dispersal ability, competitiveness, reproductive investment and survival rate in a spatially explicit metacommunity model under various disturbance rates. Though no unique trait values were associated with specialisation, relationships were uncovered depending on environmental factors. We found strong trait associations mainly for generalist species, while specialist species exhibited a larger range of trait combinations. Trait associations were driven first by the disturbance rate and second by species' dispersal ability and generation overlap. With disturbance, low dispersal ability was strongly selected against, for specialists as well as for generalists. Our results demonstrate that habitat specialisation is critical for the emergence of trait strategies in metacommunities and that disturbance in interaction with dispersal ability limits not only the range of trait values but also the type of possible trait associations.

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