A protocol to compare nestedness among submatrices

Research paper by Giovanni Strona, Fabrizio Stefani, Paolo Galli, Simone Fattorini

Indexed on: 28 Sep '12Published on: 28 Sep '12Published in: Population Ecology


Searching for nestedness has become a popular exercise in community ecology. Significance of a nestedness index is usually evaluated using z values, and finding that a matrix is nested is typically a common result. However, nestedness is not likely to be spread uniformly within a matrix of species presence/absence per site. Selected parts of the matrix may show a degree of nestedness significantly higher (or lower) than expected from the overall pattern. Here we describe a procedure to assess if a particular submatrix (i.e., a peculiar combination of rows and columns extracted from the complete matrix) is more or less nested than expected for an assortment of sites and species taken at random from the same overall matrix. The idea is to obtain several submatrices of different sizes from the same overall matrix and to calculate their z values. A regression is then performed between z values of submatrices and their sizes. A nestedness index independent of matrix size is suggested as the deviation of the z value of a particular submatrix from that expected according to the regression line. We applied our protocol to 55 matrices with different nestedness indices under various null-models and, for purpose of demonstration, we discussed in detail a single case study regarding various animal groups of the Aegean Islands (Greece). The obtained results strongly encourage further research to focus not only on the question whether a matrix is nested or not, but also on where and why nestedness is confined.