, Volume 102, Issue 4, pp 413–424 | Cite as

The influence of colonization in nested species subsets

  • Rosamonde R. Cook
  • James F. Quinn
Original Paper


Biotic communities inhabiting collections of insular habitat patches often exhibit compositional patterns described as “nested subsets”. In nested biotas, the assemblages of species in relatively depauperate sites comprise successive subsets of species in relatively richer sites. In theory, nestedness may result from selective extinction, selective colonization, or other mechanisms, such as nested habitats. Allopatric speciation is expected to reduce nestedness. Previous studies, based largely on comparisons between land-bridge and oceanic archipelagos, have emphasized the role of selective extinction. However, colonization could also be important in generating strong patterns of nestedness. We apply a recently published index of nestedness to more than 50 island biogeographic data sets, and examine the roles of colonization, extinction, endemism, and, to a limited extent, habitat variability on the degree on nestedness. Most data sets exhibit a significant degree of nestedness, although there is no general tendency for land-bridge biotas to appear more nested than oceanic ones. Endemic species are shown to generally reduce nestedness. Comparisons between groups of non-endemic species differing in overwater or inter-patch dispersal ability indicate that superior dispersers generally exhibit a greater degree of nestedness than poorer dispersers, a result opposite that expected if colonization were a less predictable process than extinction. These results suggest that frequent colonization is likely to enhance nestedness, thereby increasing the compositional overlap among insular biotas. The prevalence of selective extinction in natural communities remains in question. The importance of colonization in generating and maintaining nested subsets suggests that (1) minimum critical areas will be difficult to determine from patterns of species distributions on islands; (2) multiple conservation sites are likely to be required to preserve communities in subdivided landscapes; and (3) management of dispersal processes may be as important to preserving species and communities as is minimizing extinctions.

Key words

Species composition Islands Nested subsets Conservation Colonization 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1995

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rosamonde R. Cook
    • 1
  • James F. Quinn
    • 1
  1. 1.Division of Environmental StudiesUniversity of CaliforniaDavisUSA

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