, Volume 152, Issue 4, pp 763–777

Toward ecologically explicit null models of nestedness

Community Ecology

DOI: 10.1007/s00442-007-0696-0

Cite this article as:
Moore, J.E. & Swihart, R.K. Oecologia (2007) 152: 763. doi:10.1007/s00442-007-0696-0


A community is “nested” when species assemblages in less rich sites form nonrandom subsets of those at richer sites. Conventional null models used to test for statistically nonrandom nestedness are under- or over-restrictive because they do not sufficiently isolate ecological processes of interest, which hinders ecological inference. We propose a class of null models that are ecologically explicit and interpretable. Expected values of species richness and incidence, rather than observed values, are used to create random presence–absence matrices for hypothesis testing. In our examples, based on six datasets, expected values were derived either by using an individually based random placement model or by fitting empirical models to richness data as a function of environmental covariates. We describe an algorithm for constructing unbiased null matrices, which permitted valid testing of our null models. Our approach avoids the problem of building too much structure into the null model, and enabled us to explicitly test whether observed communities were more nested than would be expected for a system structured solely by species–abundance and species–area or similar relationships. We argue that this test or similar tests are better determinants of whether a system is truly nested; a nested system should contain unique pattern not already predicted by more fundamental ecological principles such as species–area relationships. Most species assemblages we studied were not nested under these null models. Our results suggest that nestedness, beyond that which is explained by passive sampling processes, may not be as widespread as currently believed. These findings may help to improve the utility of nestedness as an ecological concept and conservation tool.


Forest songbirds Random placement model Site–species matrix Species–abundance Species–area 

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Forestry and Natural ResourcesPurdue UniversityWest LafayetteUSA
  2. 2.Duke Center for Marine ConservationBeaufortUSA

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