An evaluation of randomization models for nested species subsets analysis

TitleAn evaluation of randomization models for nested species subsets analysis
Publication TypeJournal Article
Cook RR, Quinn JF
Type of Articlearticle
Year of Publication1998

Randomization models, often termed ``null'' models, have been widely used since the 1970s in studies of species community and biogeographic patterns, More recently they have been used to test for nested species subset patterns (or nestedness) among assemblages of species occupying spatially subdivided habitats, such as island archipelagoes and terrestrial habitat patches. Nestedness occurs when the species occupying small or species-poor sites have a strong tendency to form proper subsets of richer species assemblages. In this paper, we examine the ability of several published simulation models to detect, in an unbiased way, nested subset patterns from a simple matrix of site-by-species presence-absence data. Each approach attempts to build in biological realism by following the assumption that the ecological processes that generated the patterns observed in nature would, if they could be repeated many times over using the same species stud landscape configuration, produce islands with the same number of species and species present on the same number of islands as observed. In mathematical terms, the mean marginal totals (column and row sums) of many simulated matrices would match those of the observed matrix. Results of model simulations suggest that the true probability of a species occupying any given site cannot be estimated unambiguously. Nearly all of the models tested were shown to bias simulation matrices toward low levels of nestedness, increasing the probability of a Type I statistical error. Further, desired marginal totals could be obtained only through ad-hoc manipulation of the calculated probabilities. Paradoxically, when such results are achieved, the model is shown to have little statistical power to detect nestedness. This is because nestedness is determined largely by the marginal totals of the matrix themselves, as suggested earlier by Wright and Reeves. We conclude that at the present time, the best null model for nested subset patterns may be one based on equal probabilities of occurrence for all species. Examples of such models are readily available in the literature.

Journal DateFEB
Keywordsnested subsets
Citation KeyCook1998