Data_Sheet_1_Integrating Multiple Data Types to Connect Ecological Theory and Data Among Levels.pdf
Ecological theories often encompass multiple levels of biological organization, such as genes, individuals, populations, and communities. Despite substantial progress toward ecological theory spanning multiple levels, ecological data rarely are connected in this way. This is unfortunate because different types of ecological data often emerge from the same underlying processes and, therefore, are naturally connected among levels. Here, we describe an approach to integrate data collected at multiple levels (e.g., individuals, populations) in a single statistical analysis. The resulting integrated models make full use of existing data and might strengthen links between statistical ecology and ecological models and theories that span multiple levels of organization. Integrated models are increasingly feasible due to recent advances in computational statistics, which allow fast calculations of multiple likelihoods that depend on complex mechanistic models. We discuss recently developed integrated models and outline a simple application using data on freshwater fishes in south-eastern Australia. Available data on freshwater fishes include population survey data, mark-recapture data, and individual growth trajectories. We use these data to estimate age-specific survival and reproduction from size-structured data, accounting for imperfect detection of individuals. Given that such parameter estimates would be infeasible without an integrated model, we argue that integrated models will strengthen ecological theory by connecting theoretical and mathematical models directly to empirical data. Although integrated models remain conceptually and computationally challenging, integrating ecological data among levels is likely to be an important step toward unifying ecology among levels.
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