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Keywords:

  • models;
  • multiple regression

Abstract Much of biogeography, conservation and evolutionary biology, and ecology involves very large spatial and temporal extents. Direct manipulation to test hypotheses is usually almost impossible at appropriate scales so that multivariate modelling and especially regression are used to draw causal inferences about which ‘independent’ variables influence the distribution and abundances of species. Such inferences clearly are crucial for the successful management of biological resources and for conserving threatened species. A succession of regression approaches has arisen, many of which yield inconsistent implications. The main problem has been the quest for one (the ‘best’ or the ‘optimal’) regression model from which the impacts of independent variables are inferred. This note is to draw the attention of ecologists to a relatively recent method, hierarchical partitioning, that does not aim to identify a best regression model as such but rather uses all models in a regression hierarchy to distinguish those variables that have high independent correlations with the dependent variable. Such variables are likely to be most influential in controlling variation in the dependent variable. Hierarchical partitioning is not to be regarded as a substitute for experimental manipulation when that is appropriate, but it is likely to produce better deductions than common regression approaches in the many ecological situations in which manipulation is impossible or of doubtful value.