Methodological issues and advances in biological meta-analysis
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- Nakagawa, S. & Santos, E.S.A. Evol Ecol (2012) 26: 1253. doi:10.1007/s10682-012-9555-5
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Meta-analysis has changed the way researchers conduct literature reviews not only in medical and social sciences but also in biological sciences. Meta-analysis in biological sciences, especially in ecology and evolution (which we refer to as ‘biological’ meta-analysis) faces somewhat different methodological problems from its counterparts in medical and social sciences, where meta-analytic techniques were originally developed. The main reason for such differences is that biological meta-analysis often integrates complex data composed of multiple strata with, for example, different measurements and a variety of species. Here, we review methodological issues and advancements in biological meta-analysis, focusing on three topics: (1) non-independence arising from multiple effect sizes obtained in single studies and from phylogenetic relatedness, (2) detecting and accounting for heterogeneity, and (3) identifying publication bias and measuring its impact. We show how the marriage between mixed-effects (hierarchical/multilevel) models and phylogenetic comparative methods has resolved most of the issues under discussion. Furthermore, we introduce the concept of across-study and within-study meta-analysis, and propose how the use of within-study meta-analysis can improve many empirical studies typical of ecology and evolution.