The role of stochastic processes in producing nested patterns of species distributions

  • Higgins C
  • Willig M
  • Strauss R
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Abstract

Nestedness has received considerable attention in community ecology and conservation biology from both theoretical and empirical perspectives. This has lead to the creation of various metrics and null models to analyze nested subsets, all of which rely on the random placement of species to assess significance. However, if immigration and extinction are the processes that underlie species distributions on island systems, then null models might be better determined on the basis of randomly placed individuals. Consequently, we examined the effects of speciesabundance distributions (uniform, dominancedecay, randomassortment, and dominancepreemption), islandsize distributions (uniform and linear decrease), and total abundances (128, 256, 512, 1024, 2048, 4096 and 8192) on the degree of nestedness and its significance. Generally, matrices of species presence and absence created from the random placement of individuals were nested significantly according to null models based on the random placement of species. Island size and abundance had less of an effect on nestedness in systems dominated by only a few species than in systems in which abundances were distributed more evenly. Stochastic processes, such as the random placement of individuals, predispose systems to evince patterns of nestedness at the species level, which may account, in part, for the ubiquity of nestedness in nature.

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