A consistent metric for nestedness analysis in ecological systems: reconciling concept and measurement


  • Mário Almeida-Neto,

  • Paulo Guimarães,

  • Paulo R. Guimarães Jr,

  • Rafael D. Loyola,

  • Werner Ulrich

M. Almeida-Neto (marioeco@gmail.com) and R. D. Loyola, Laboratório de Interações Insetos-Plantas, Dept Zoologia, Univ. Estadual de Campinas, CP 6109, BR–13083-970, Campinas, Brazil. – P. Guimarães, Daitan Labs, Galleria Office, Campinas, SP, Brazil. – P. R. Guimarães Jr, Dept Física da Matéria Condensada, Inst. de Física Gleb Wataghin, Univ. Estadual de Campinas, BR–13083-970, Campinas SP, Brazil and Estación Biológica de Doñana, CSIC, Apartado 1056, ES–41080 Seville, Spain. – W. Ulrich, Dept of Animal Ecology, Nicolaus Copernicus Univ. in Torun, Gagarina 9, PL–87-100 Torun, Poland.


Nestedness has been widely reported for both metacommunities and networks of interacting species. Even though the concept of this ecological pattern has been well-defined, there are several metrics by which it can be quantified. We noted that current metrics do not correctly quantify two major properties of nestedness: (1) whether marginal totals (i.e. fills) differ among columns and/or among rows, and (2) whether the presences (1's) in less-filled columns and rows coincide, respectively, with those found in the more-filled columns and rows. We propose a new metric directly based on these properties and compare its behavior with that of the most used metrics, using a set of model matrices ranging from highly-nested to alternative structures in which no nestedness should be detected. We also used an empirical dataset to explore possible biases generated by the metrics as well as to evaluate correlations between metrics. We found that nestedness has been quantified by metrics that inappropriately detect this pattern, even for matrices in which there is no nestedness. In addition, the most used metrics are prone to type I statistical errors while our new metric has better statistical properties and consistently rejects a nested pattern for different types of random matrices. The analysis of the empirical data showed that two nestedness metrics, matrix temperature and the discrepancy measure, tend to overestimate the degrees of nestedness in metacommunities. We emphasize and discuss some implications of these biases for the theoretical understanding of the processes shaping species interaction networks and metacommunity structure.