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Research frontiers in null model analysis

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Abstract

Null models are pattern-generating models that deliberately exclude a mechanism of interest, and allow for randomization tests of ecological and biogeographic data. Although they have had a controversial history, null models are widely used as statistical tools by ecologists and biogeographers. Three active research fronts in null model analysis include biodiversity measures, species co-occurrence patterns, and macroecology. In the analysis of biodiversity, ecologists have used random sampling procedures such as rarefaction to adjust for differences in abundance and sampling effort. In the analysis of species co-occurrence and assembly rules, null models have been used to detect the signature of species interactions. However, controversy persists over the details of computer algorithms used for randomizing presence–absence matrices. Finally, in the newly emerging discipline of macroecology, null models can be used to identify constraining boundaries in bivariate scatterplots of variables such as body size, range size, and population density. Null models provide specificity and flexibility in data analysis that is often not possible with conventional statistical tests.

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