1. Macroinvertebrate count data often exhibit nested or hierarchical structure. Examples include multiple measurements along each of a set of streams, and multiple synoptic measurements from each of a set of ponds. With data exhibiting hierarchical structure, outcomes at both sampling (e.g. Within stream) and aggregated (e.g. Stream) scales are often of interest. Unfortunately, methods for modelling hierarchical count data have received little attention in the ecological literature. 2. We demonstrate the use of hierarchical count models using fingernail clam (Family: Sphaeriidae) count data and habitat predictors derived from sampling and aggregated spatial scales. The sampling scale corresponded to that of a standard Ponar grab (0.052 m(2)) and the aggregated scale to impounded and backwater regions within 38-197 km reaches of the Upper Mississippi River. Impounded and backwater regions were resampled annually for 10 years. Consequently, measurements on clams were nested within years. Counts were treated as negative binomial random variates, and means from each resampling event as random departures from the impounded and backwater region grand means. 3. Clam models were improved by the addition of covariates that varied at both the sampling and regional scales. Substrate composition varied at the sampling scale and was associated with model improvements, and reductions (for a given mean) in variance at the sampling scale. Inorganic suspended solids (ISS) levels, measured in the summer preceding sampling, also yielded model improvements and were associated with reductions in variances at the regional rather than sampling scales. ISS levels were negatively associated with mean clam counts. 4. Hierarchical models allow hierarchically structured data to be modelled without ignoring information specific to levels of the hierarchy. In addition, information at each hierarchical level may be modelled as functions of covariates that themselves vary by and within levels. As a result, hierarchical models provide researchers and resource managers with a method for modelling hierarchical data that explicitly recognises both the sampling design and the information contained in the corresponding data.
Additional publication details
Modelling habitat associations with fingernail clam (Family: Sphaeriidae) counts at multiple spatial scales using hierarchical count models