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A pathway for multivariate analysis of ecological communities using copulas.


ABSTRACT: We describe a new pathway for multivariate analysis of data consisting of counts of species abundances that includes two key components: copulas, to provide a flexible joint model of individual species, and dissimilarity-based methods, to integrate information across species and provide a holistic view of the community. Individual species are characterized using suitable (marginal) statistical distributions, with the mean, the degree of over-dispersion, and/or zero-inflation being allowed to vary among a priori groups of sampling units. Associations among species are then modeled using copulas, which allow any pair of disparate types of variables to be coupled through their cumulative distribution function, while maintaining entirely the separate individual marginal distributions appropriate for each species. A Gaussian copula smoothly captures changes in an index of association that excludes joint absences in the space of the original species variables. A permutation-based filter with exact family-wise error can optionally be used a priori to reduce the dimensionality of the copula estimation problem. We describe in detail a Monte Carlo expectation maximization algorithm for efficient estimation of the copula correlation matrix with discrete marginal distributions (counts). The resulting fully parameterized copula models can be used to simulate realistic ecological community data under fully specified null or alternative hypotheses. Distributions of community centroids derived from simulated data can then be visualized in ordinations of ecologically meaningful dissimilarity spaces. Multinomial mixtures of data drawn from copula models also yield smooth power curves in dissimilarity-based settings. Our proposed analysis pathway provides new opportunities to combine model-based approaches with dissimilarity-based methods to enhance understanding of ecological systems. We demonstrate implementation of the pathway through an ecological example, where associations among fish species were found to increase after the establishment of a marine reserve.

SUBMITTER: Anderson MJ 

PROVIDER: S-EPMC6434552 | BioStudies | 2019-01-01

SECONDARY ACCESSION(S): 10.5061/dryad.3s6rm0f

REPOSITORIES: biostudies

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