Comparative methods as a statistical fix: the dangers of ignoring an evolutionary model.
ABSTRACT Abstract Comparative methods are widely used in ecology and evolution. The most frequently used comparative methods are based on an explicit evolutionary model. However, recent approaches have been popularized that are without an evolutionary basis or an underlying null model. Here we highlight the limitations of such techniques in comparative analyses by using simulations to compare two commonly used comparative methods with and without evolutionary basis, respectively: generalized least squares (GLS) and phylogenetic eigenvector regression (PVR). We find that GLS methods are more efficient at estimating model parameters and produce lower variance in parameter estimates, lower phylogenetic signal in residuals, and lower Type I error rates than PVR methods. These results can very likely be generalized to eigenvector methods that control for space and both space and phylogeny. We highlight that GLS methods can be adapted in numerous ways and that the variance structure used in these models can be flexibly optimized to each data set.
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ABSTRACT: Associations between biological traits of animals and climate are well documented by physiological and local-scale studies. However, whether an ecophysiological phenomenon can affect large-scale biogeographical patterns of insects is largely unknown. Insects absorb energy from the sun to become mobile, and their colouration varies depending on the prevailing climate where they live. Here we show, using data of 473 European butterfly and dragonfly species, that dark-coloured insect species are favoured in cooler climates and light-coloured species in warmer climates. By comparing distribution maps of dragonflies from 1988 and 2006, we provide support for a mechanistic link between climate, functional traits and species that affects geographical distributions even at continental scales. Our results constitute a foundation for better forecasting the effect of climate change on many insect groups.Nature Communications 01/2014; 5:3874. · 10.02 Impact Factor
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ABSTRACT: The use of long-term population data to separate the demographic role of climate from density-modified demographic processes has become a major topic of ecological investigation over the last two decades. Although the ecological and evolutionary mechanisms that determine the strength of density feedbacks are now well understood, the degree to which climate gradients shape those processes across taxa and broad spatial scales remains unclear. Intuitively, harsh or highly variable environmental conditions should weaken compensatory density feedbacks because populations are hypothetically unable to achieve or maintain densities at which social and trophic interactions (e.g., competition, parasitism, predation, disease) might systematically reduce population growth. Here we investigate variation in the strength of compensatory density feedback, from long-term time series of abundance over 146 species of birds and mammals, in response to spatial gradients of broad-scale temperature precipitation variables covering 97 localities in 28 countries. We use information-theoretic metrics to rank phylogenetic generalized least-squares regression models that control for sample size (time-series length) and phylogenetic non-independence. Climatic factors explained < 1% of the remaining variation in density-feedback strength across species, with the highest non-control, model-averaged effect sizes related to extreme precipitation variables. We could not link our results directly to other published studies, because ecologists use contrasting responses, predictors and statistical approaches to correlate density feedback and climate - at the expense of comparability in a macroecological context. Censuses of multiple populations within a given species, and a priori knowledge of the spatial scales at which density feedbacks interact with climate, seem to be necessary to determine cross-taxa variation in this phenomenon. Despite the availability of robust modelling tools, the appropriate data have not yet been gathered for most species, meaning that we cannot yet make any robust generalisations about how demographic feedbacks interact with climate.PLoS ONE 01/2014; 9(3):e91536. · 3.73 Impact Factor
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ABSTRACT: Recent innovations in phylogenetic comparative methods (PCMs) have spurred a renaissance of research into the causes and consequences of large-scale patterns of biodiversity. In this paper, we review these advances. We also highlight the potential of comparative methods to integrate across fields and focus on three examples where such integration might be particularly valuable: quantitative genetics, community ecology, and paleobiology. We argue that PCMs will continue to be a key set of tools in evolutionary biology, shedding new light on how evolutionary processes have shaped patterns of biodiversity through deep time.Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 06/2013; 1289(1):90-105. · 4.38 Impact Factor