Coherence in (meta)community networks

Hans Rolf Gregorius*, Elizabeth M. Gillet, Evsey Kosman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In a general sense, a metacommunity can be considered as a network of communities, the coherence of which is based on characteristics that are shared by members of different communities, whatever forces were responsible (dispersal, migration, local adaptation, etc.). The purpose is to show that by basing the assessment of coherence on the degree of nestedness of one community within another with respect to the shared characteristics, coherence components can be identified within the network. To assess coherence, a measure of nestedness is developed, and its application to complex (variable) object differences (including multiple traits or characters) is investigated. A community network is then viewed as a graph in which the nodes represent the communities and the edges connecting nodes are weighted by the reverse of the degrees of nestedness between the corresponding communities. Given this framework, it is argued that a minimum requirement for a set of communities to be coherent is the existence of a spanning tree known from graph theory, i.e. a subgraph that connects all nodes through a cycle-free sequence of edges with positive weights. Of all spanning trees, minimum spanning trees (MST, or spanning trees with the minimum sum of edge weights) are most indicative of coherence. By expressing the degree of coherence as one minus the average weight of the edges of an MST, it is uniquely determined which communities form a coherent set at any given level of community distinctness. By this method, community networks can be broken down into coherence components that are separated at a specified distinctness level. This is illustrated in a worked example showing how to apply graph theoretical methods to distinguish coherence components at various threshold levels of object difference (resolution) and community distinctness. These results provide a basis for discussion of coherence gradients and coherence at various levels of distinctness in terms of MST-characteristics. As intuitively expected and analytically confirmed, coherence is a non-decreasing function of the object difference threshold, and the number of coherence components is a non-increasing function of both the object difference and the community distinctness thresholds.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)395-408
Number of pages14
JournalTheoretical Ecology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2021


  • Coherence component
  • Coherence index
  • Graph theory
  • Metacommunity coherence
  • Minimum spanning tree
  • Nestedness
  • Overlap
  • Variable type differences


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