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Comment on Pescott & Jitlal 2020: Failure to account for measurement error undermines their conclusion of a weak impact of nitrogen deposition on plant species richness

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Comment on Pescott & Jitlal 2020 : Failure to account for measurement error undermines their conclusion of a weak impact of nitrogen deposition on plant species richness. / Smart, Simon; Stevens, Carly; Tomlinson, Sam; Maskell, L.C.; Henrys, P.A.

In: Peerj, Vol. 2021, 48980, 12.01.2021.

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@article{b9201ab0b6b84a0e885d56da0622f009,
title = "Comment on Pescott & Jitlal 2020: Failure to account for measurement error undermines their conclusion of a weak impact of nitrogen deposition on plant species richness",
abstract = "Estimation of the impacts of atmospheric nitrogen (N) deposition on ecosystems and biodiversity is a research imperative. Analyses of large-scale spatial gradients, where an observed response is correlated with measured or modelled deposition, have been an important source of evidence. A number of problems beset this approach. For example, if responses are spatially aggregated then treating each location as statistically independent can lead to biased confidence intervals and a greater probably of false positive results. Using methods that account for residual spatial autocorrelation, Pescott & Jitlal (2020) re-analysed two large-scale spatial gradient datasets from Britain where modelled N deposition at 5 × 5 km resolution had been previously correlated with species richness in small quadrats. They found that N deposition effects were weaker than previously demonstrated leading them to conclude that “previous estimates of Ndep impacts on richness from space-for-time substitution studies are likely to have been over-estimated”. We use a simulation study to show that their conclusion is unreliable despite them recognising that an influential fraction of the residual spatially structured variation could itself be attributable to N deposition. This arises because the covariate used was modelled N deposition at 5 × 5 km resolution leaving open the possibility that measured or modelled N deposition at finer resolutions could explain more variance in the response. Explicitly treating this as spatially auto-correlated error ignores this possibility and leads directly to their unreliable conclusion. We further demonstrate the plausibility of this scenario by showing that significant variation in N deposition at the 1 km square resolution is indeed averaged at 5 × 5 km resolution. Further analyses are required to explore whether estimation of the size of the N deposition effect on plant species richness and other measures of biodiversity is indeed dependent on the accuracy and hence measurement error of the N deposition covariate. Until then the conclusions of Pescott & Jitlal (2020) should be considered premature.",
author = "Simon Smart and Carly Stevens and Sam Tomlinson and L.C. Maskell and P.A Henrys",
year = "2021",
month = jan,
day = "12",
doi = "10.7717/peerj.10632",
language = "English",
volume = "2021",
journal = "Peerj",
issn = "2167-8359",
publisher = "PeerJ Inc.",

}

RIS

TY - JOUR

T1 - Comment on Pescott & Jitlal 2020

T2 - Failure to account for measurement error undermines their conclusion of a weak impact of nitrogen deposition on plant species richness

AU - Smart, Simon

AU - Stevens, Carly

AU - Tomlinson, Sam

AU - Maskell, L.C.

AU - Henrys, P.A

PY - 2021/1/12

Y1 - 2021/1/12

N2 - Estimation of the impacts of atmospheric nitrogen (N) deposition on ecosystems and biodiversity is a research imperative. Analyses of large-scale spatial gradients, where an observed response is correlated with measured or modelled deposition, have been an important source of evidence. A number of problems beset this approach. For example, if responses are spatially aggregated then treating each location as statistically independent can lead to biased confidence intervals and a greater probably of false positive results. Using methods that account for residual spatial autocorrelation, Pescott & Jitlal (2020) re-analysed two large-scale spatial gradient datasets from Britain where modelled N deposition at 5 × 5 km resolution had been previously correlated with species richness in small quadrats. They found that N deposition effects were weaker than previously demonstrated leading them to conclude that “previous estimates of Ndep impacts on richness from space-for-time substitution studies are likely to have been over-estimated”. We use a simulation study to show that their conclusion is unreliable despite them recognising that an influential fraction of the residual spatially structured variation could itself be attributable to N deposition. This arises because the covariate used was modelled N deposition at 5 × 5 km resolution leaving open the possibility that measured or modelled N deposition at finer resolutions could explain more variance in the response. Explicitly treating this as spatially auto-correlated error ignores this possibility and leads directly to their unreliable conclusion. We further demonstrate the plausibility of this scenario by showing that significant variation in N deposition at the 1 km square resolution is indeed averaged at 5 × 5 km resolution. Further analyses are required to explore whether estimation of the size of the N deposition effect on plant species richness and other measures of biodiversity is indeed dependent on the accuracy and hence measurement error of the N deposition covariate. Until then the conclusions of Pescott & Jitlal (2020) should be considered premature.

AB - Estimation of the impacts of atmospheric nitrogen (N) deposition on ecosystems and biodiversity is a research imperative. Analyses of large-scale spatial gradients, where an observed response is correlated with measured or modelled deposition, have been an important source of evidence. A number of problems beset this approach. For example, if responses are spatially aggregated then treating each location as statistically independent can lead to biased confidence intervals and a greater probably of false positive results. Using methods that account for residual spatial autocorrelation, Pescott & Jitlal (2020) re-analysed two large-scale spatial gradient datasets from Britain where modelled N deposition at 5 × 5 km resolution had been previously correlated with species richness in small quadrats. They found that N deposition effects were weaker than previously demonstrated leading them to conclude that “previous estimates of Ndep impacts on richness from space-for-time substitution studies are likely to have been over-estimated”. We use a simulation study to show that their conclusion is unreliable despite them recognising that an influential fraction of the residual spatially structured variation could itself be attributable to N deposition. This arises because the covariate used was modelled N deposition at 5 × 5 km resolution leaving open the possibility that measured or modelled N deposition at finer resolutions could explain more variance in the response. Explicitly treating this as spatially auto-correlated error ignores this possibility and leads directly to their unreliable conclusion. We further demonstrate the plausibility of this scenario by showing that significant variation in N deposition at the 1 km square resolution is indeed averaged at 5 × 5 km resolution. Further analyses are required to explore whether estimation of the size of the N deposition effect on plant species richness and other measures of biodiversity is indeed dependent on the accuracy and hence measurement error of the N deposition covariate. Until then the conclusions of Pescott & Jitlal (2020) should be considered premature.

U2 - 10.7717/peerj.10632

DO - 10.7717/peerj.10632

M3 - Journal article

VL - 2021

JO - Peerj

JF - Peerj

SN - 2167-8359

M1 - 48980

ER -