Global change and conservation ecology


, Volume 145, Issue 3, pp 475-485

Nested communities, invasive species and Holocene extinctions: evaluating the power of a potential conservation tool

  • C. Josh. DonlanAffiliated withDepartment of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Cornell UniversityIsland Conservation, Center for Ocean Health Email author 
  • , Jessie KnowltonAffiliated withDepartment of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of California
  • , Daniel F. DoakAffiliated withDepartment of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of California
  • , Noah BiavaschiAffiliated withIsland Conservation, Center for Ocean Health

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General ecological methods and models that require a minimum amount of information yet are still able to inform conservation planning are particularly valuable. Nested subset analysis has been advocated as such a tool for the prediction of extinction-prone species and populations. However, such advocacy has not been without skepticism and debate, and in the majority of published examples assessing extinction vulnerability, actual extinctions are based on assumptions rather than direct evidence. Here, we empirically test the power of nested subset analysis to predict extinction-prone species, using documented Holocene insular mammal extinctions on three island archipelagos off the west coast of North America. We go on to test whether the introduction of invasive mammals promotes nestedness on islands via extinction. While all three archipelagos were significantly nested before and after the extinction events, nested subset analysis largely failed to predict extinction patterns. We also failed to detect any correlations between the degree of nestedness at the genus-level with area, isolation, or species richness and extinction risk. Biogeography tools, such as nested subset analysis, must be critically evaluated before they are prescribed widely for conservation planning. For these island archipelagos, it appears detailed natural history and taxa-specific ecology may prove critical in predicting patterns of extinction risk.


Baja Biogeography California Islands Introduced mammals Natural history Nested subset analysis Mexico