Widespread winners and narrow-ranged losers: Land use homogenizes biodiversity in local assemblages worldwide

by Tim Newbold, Lawrence N. Hudson, Sara Contu, Samantha L. L. Hill, Jan Beck, Yunhui Liu, Carsten Meyer, Helen R. P. Phillips, Jörn P. W. Scharlemann, Andy Purvis

Human use of the land (for agriculture and settlements) has a substantial negative effect on biodiversity globally. However, not all species are adversely affected by land use, and indeed, some benefit from the creation of novel habitat. Geographically rare species may be more negatively affected by land use than widespread species, but data limitations have so far prevented global multi-clade assessments of land-use effects on narrow-ranged and widespread species. We analyse a large, global database to show consistent differences in assemblage composition. Compared with natural habitat, assemblages in disturbed habitats have more widespread species on average, especially in urban areas and the tropics. All else being equal, this result means that human land use is homogenizing assemblage composition across space. Disturbed habitats show both reduced abundances of narrow-ranged species and increased abundances of widespread species. Our results are very important for biodiversity conservation because narrow-ranged species are typically at higher risk of extinction than widespread species. Furthermore, the shift to more widespread species may also affect ecosystem functioning by reducing both the contribution of rare species and the diversity of species’ responses to environmental changes among local assemblages.

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