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Incorporating uncertainty and prior information into stable isotope mixing models

Authors

  • Jonathan W. Moore,

    Corresponding author
    1. National Marine Fisheries Service, Northwest Fisheries Science Center, 2725 Montlake Boulevard East, Seattle, WA 98112, USA
    2. Center for Ocean Health, University of California, 100 Shaffer Road, Santa Cruz, CA 95060, USA
      *Correspondence:E-mail: jwmoore@biology.ucsc.edu
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    • Authors contributed equally to this manuscript.

  • Brice X. Semmens

    1. National Marine Fisheries Service, Northwest Fisheries Science Center, 2725 Montlake Boulevard East, Seattle, WA 98112, USA
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    • Authors contributed equally to this manuscript.


*Correspondence:E-mail: jwmoore@biology.ucsc.edu

Abstract

Stable isotopes are a powerful tool for ecologists, often used to assess contributions of different sources to a mixture (e.g. prey to a consumer). Mixing models use stable isotope data to estimate the contribution of sources to a mixture. Uncertainty associated with mixing models is often substantial, but has not yet been fully incorporated in models. We developed a Bayesian-mixing model that estimates probability distributions of source contributions to a mixture while explicitly accounting for uncertainty associated with multiple sources, fractionation and isotope signatures. This model also allows for optional incorporation of informative prior information in analyses. We demonstrate our model using a predator–prey case study. Accounting for uncertainty in mixing model inputs can change the variability, magnitude and rank order of estimates of prey (source) contributions to the predator (mixture). Isotope mixing models need to fully account for uncertainty in order to accurately estimate source contributions.

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