Can additive beta-diversity be reliably partitioned into nestedness and turnover components?

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


  • Thomas Aspin
  • Werner Ulrich
  • Andrés Baselga
  • Yasuhiro Kubota
  • Konstantinos Proios
  • Kostas A. Triantis
  • Robert J. Whittaker
  • Giovanni Strona

Colleges, School and Institutes

External organisations

  • CE3C – Centre for Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Changes/Azorean Biodiversity Group and Univ. dos Açores – Depto de Ciências e Engenharia do Ambiente, PT-9700-042, Angra do Heroísmo, Açores, Portugal.
  • Faculty of Biology and Environment Protection, Nicolaus, Copernicus University, Lwowska 1, 87-100 Toruń, Poland
  • Departamento de Zoología, Genética y Antropología Física, Facultad de Biología, Universidad de Santiago de Compostela, Rúa Lope Gómez de Marzoa, 15782, Santiago de Compostela, Spain
  • Faculty of Science, University of the Ryukyus, 1 Senbaru, Nishihara, Okinawa, 903-0213, Japan.
  • Department of Ecology and Taxonomy, Faculty of Biology, National and Kapodistrian, University of Athens, Athens GR-15784, Greece
  • European Commission, Joint Research Centre, Directorate D - Sustainable Resources – Bio-Economy Unit, Via Enrico Fermi 274 9, 21027 Ispra (VA), Italy
  • Conservation Biogeography and Macroecology Programme, School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford
  • Center for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate, Department of Biology, University of Copenhagen


Aims: Quantifying β‐diversity (differences in the composition of communities) is central to many ecological studies. There are many β‐diversity metrics, falling mostly into two approaches: variance‐based (e.g., the Sørensen index), or diversity partitioning (e.g., additive β‐diversity). The former cannot be used when species–sites matrices are unavailable (which is often the case in island biogeography in particular) and only species richness data are provided. Recently, efforts have been made to partition additive β‐diversity, a metric calculated using only α‐diversity and γ‐diversity, into nestedness and turnover components (termed here “richness‐only β‐diversity partitioning”). We set out to test whether this form of β‐diversity partitioning generates interpretable results, comparable with metrics based on species incidence β‐diversity partitioning.

Location: Global.

Time period: Present day.

Major taxa studied: Multiple taxa.

Methods: We first provide a brief review of β‐diversity partitioning methods, with a particular focus on the development of richness‐only β‐diversity partitioning. Second, we use 254 empirical incidence matrices (provided with the paper) sourced from the literature to measure turnover and nestedness using incidence β‐diversity partitioning, comparing the resulting values with those calculated using richness‐only β‐diversity.

Results: We provide an account of the emergence of β‐diversity partitioning, with particular reference to the analysis of richness‐only datasets, and to the definition and usage of the relevant metrics. Analytically, we report weak correlations between turnover and nestedness calculated using the two different approaches. We show that this is because identical values of α‐diversity and γ‐diversity can correspond to incidence matrices with a range of different structures.

Main conclusions: Our results demonstrate that the use of richness‐only β‐diversity partitioning to measure turnover and nestedness is problematic and can produce patterns unrelated to conventional measures of turnover and nestedness. We therefore recommend that more accurate definitions are adopted for these terms in future studies.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1146-1154
Number of pages9
JournalGlobal Ecology and Biogeography
Issue number8
Early online date26 May 2019
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2019


  • beta diversity, compositional differences, diversity partitioning, nestedness, turnover