Aim This study aims to explain the patterns of species richness and nestedness of a terrestrial bird community in a poorly studied region.
Location Twenty-six islands in the Dahlak Archipelago, Southern Red Sea, Eritrea.
Methods The islands and five mainland areas were censused in summer 1999 and winter 2001. To study the importance of island size, isolation from the mainland and inter-island distance, I used constrained null models for the nestedness temperature calculator and a cluster analysis.
Results Species richness depended on island area and isolation from the mainland. Nestedness was detected, even when passive sampling was accounted for. The nested rank of islands was correlated with area and species richness, but not with isolation. Idiosyncrasies appeared among species-poor and species-rich islands, and among common and rare species. Cluster analysis showed differences among species-rich islands, close similarity among species-poor and idiosyncratic islands, and that the compositional similarity among islands decreased with increasing inter-island distance. Thus, faunas of species-poor, smaller islands were more likely to be subsets of faunas of species-rich, larger islands if the distance between the islands was short.
Main conclusions Species richness and nestedness were related to island area, and nestedness also to inter-island distances but not to isolation from the mainland. Thus, nestedness and species richness are not affected in the same way by area and distance. Moreover, idiosyncrasies may have been the outcome of species distributions among islands being influenced also by non-nested distributions of habitats, inter–specific interactions, and differences in species distributions across the mainland. Idiosyncrasies in nested patterns may be as important as the nested pattern itself for conservation – and conservation strategies based on nestedness and strong area effects (e.g. protection of only larger islands) may fail to preserve idiosyncratic species/habitats.