Functional traits and community composition: multilevel models outperform community-weighted means

BioRxiv : the Preprint Server for Biology
Jesse E D MillerEllen Damschen


1. Plant functional traits are increasingly being used to infer mechanisms about community assembly and predict global change impacts. Of the several approaches that are used to analyze trait-environment relationships, one of the most popular is community-weighted means (CWM), in which species trait values are averaged at the site level. Other approaches that do not require averaging are being developed, including multilevel models (MLM, also called generalized linear mixed models). However, relative strengths and weaknesses of these methods have not been extensively compared. 2. We investigated three statistical models for trait-environment associations: CWM, a MLM in which traits were not included as fixed effects (MLM1), and a MLM with traits as fixed effects (MLM2). We analyzed a real plant community dataset to investigate associations between two traits and one environmental variable. We then analyzed permutations of the dataset to investigate sources of type I errors, and performed a simulation study to compare the statistical power of the methods. 3. In the analysis of real data, CWM gave highly significant associations for both traits, while MLM1 and MLM2 did not. Using P-values derived by simulating the data using the ...Continue Reading

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