The influence of negative species interactions has dominated much of the literature on community assembly rules. Patterns of negative covariation among species are typically documented through null model analyses of binary presence/absence matrices in which rows designate species, columns designate sites, and the matrix entries indicate the presence (1) or absence (0) of a particular species in a particular site. However, the outcome of species interactions ultimately depends on population-level processes. Therefore, patterns of species segregation and aggregation might be more clearly expressed in abundance matrices, in which the matrix entries indicate the abundance or density of a species in a particular site. We conducted a series of benchmark tests to evaluate the performance of 14 candidate null model algorithms and six covariation metrics that can be used with abundance matrices. We first created a series of random test matrices by sampling a metacommunity from a lognormal species abundance distribution. We also created a series of structured matrices by altering the random matrices to incorporate patterns of pairwise species segregation and aggregation. We next screened each algorithm-index combination with the random and structured matrices to determine which tests had low Type I error rates and good power for detecting segregated and aggregated species distributions. In our benchmark tests, the best-performing null model does not constrain species richness, but assigns individuals to matrix cells proportional to the observed row and column marginal distributions until, for each row and column, total abundances are reached. Using this null model algorithm with a set of four covariance metrics, we tested for patterns of species segregation and aggregation in a collection of 149 empirical abundance matrices and 36 interaction matrices collated from published papers and posted data sets. More than 80% of the matrices were significantly segregated, which reinforces a previous meta-analysis of presence/absence matrices. However, using two of the metrics we detected a significant pattern of aggregation for plants and for the interaction matrices (which include plant-pollinator data sets). These results suggest that abundance matrices, analyzed with an appropriate null model, may be a powerful tool for quantifying patterns of species segregation and aggregation. © 2010 by the Ecological Society of America.
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© 2010 by the Ecological Society of America.
Ulrich W, Gotelli NJ. Null model analysis of species associations using abundance data. Ecology. 2010 Nov;91(11):3384-97.