Recently, several multiple plot similarity indices have been presented that cure some of the problems associated with the approaches for the calculation of compositional similarity for groups of plots by averaging pairwise similarities. These new indices calculate the similarity between more than two plots whilst considering the species composition on all compared plots. The resulting similarity value is true for the whole group of plots considered (called neighborhood in the following). Here, we review the possibilities for multiple plot similarity calculation and additionally explore coefficients that examine multiple plot similarity between a reference plot (named focal plot in the following) and any number of surrounding plots. The latter represent measures of singularity. Further, we establish a framework for applying these two kinds of multiple plot measures to gridded data including an algorithm for testing the significance of calculated values against random expectations.
The capability of multiple plot measures for detecting species compositional gradients and local/regional hotspots within this framework is tested. For this purpose, several artificial data sets with known gradients in species composition (random, gradient, central hotspot, hotspot bottom right) are constructed on the basis of a real data set from a Tundra ecosystem in northern Sweden (Abisko). The coefficients that best reflect the positions of the plots on the realized gradients in species composition are considered as performing best with regard to pattern detection. The tested measures of multiple plot similarity and singularity produced considerably different results when applied to one real and 4 artificial data sets. The newly proposed symmetric singularity coefficient has the best overall performance which makes it suitable for local/regional hotspot detection and for incorporating local to regional similarity analyses in reserve selection procedures.