Unravelling changing interspecific interactions across environmental gradients using Markov random fields

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Authors Nicholas J Clark, Konstans Wells, Oscar Lindberg
Journal/Conference Name Ecology
Paper Category
Paper Abstract Inferring interactions between co-occurring species is key to identify processes governing community assembly. Incorporating interspecific interactions in predictive models is common in ecology, yet most methods do not adequately account for indirect interactions (where an interaction between two species is masked by their shared interactions with a third) and assume interactions do not vary along environmental gradients. Markov random fields (MRF) overcome these limitations by estimating interspecific interactions, while controlling for indirect interactions, from multispecies occurrence data. We illustrate the utility of MRFs for ecologists interested in interspecific interactions, and demonstrate how covariates can be included (a set of models known as Conditional Random Fields, CRF) to infer how interactions vary along environmental gradients. We apply CRFs to two data sets of presence-absence data. The first illustrates how blood parasite (Haemoproteus, Plasmodium, and nematode microfilaria spp.) co-infection probabilities covary with relative abundance of their avian hosts. The second shows that co-occurrences between mosquito larvae and predatory insects vary along water temperature gradients. Other applications are discussed, including the potential to identify replacement or shifting impacts of highly connected species along climate or land-use gradients. We provide tools for building CRFs and plotting/interpreting results as an R package.
Date of publication 2018
Code Programming Language R

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