Geostatistics is a set of statistical techniques that is increasingly used to characterize spatial dependence in spatially referenced ecological data. A common feature of geostatistics is predicting values at unsampled locations from nearby samples using the kriging algorithm. Modeling spatial dependence in sampled data is necessary before kriging and is usually accomplished with the variogram and its traditional estimator. Other types of estimators, known as non-ergodic estimators, have been used in ecological applications. Non-ergodic estimators were originally suggested as a method of choice when sampled data are preferentially located and exhibit a skewed frequency distribution. Preferentially located samples can occur, for example, when areas with high values are sampled more intensely than other areas. In earlier studies the visual appearance of variograms from traditional and non-ergodic estimators were compared. Here we evaluate the estimators' relative performance in prediction. We also show algebraically that a non-ergodic version of the variogram is equivalent to the traditional variogram estimator. Simulations, designed to investigate the effects of data skewness and preferential sampling on variogram estimation and kriging, showed the traditional variogram estimator outperforms the non-ergodic estimators under these conditions. We also analyzed data on carabid beetle abundance, which exhibited large-scale spatial variability (trend) and a skewed frequency distribution. Detrending data followed by robust estimation of the residual variogram is demonstrated to be a successful alternative to the non-ergodic approach.
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A statistical evaluation of non-ergodic variogram estimators