, Volume 32, Issue 3, pp 233-246

Diatom-based inference models and reconstructions revisited: methods and transformations

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Abstract

Different calibration methods and data manipulations are being employed for quantitative paleoenvironmental reconstructions, but are rarely compared using the same data. Here, we compare several diatom-based models [weighted averaging (WA), weighted averaging with tolerance-downweighting (WAT), weighted averaging partial least squares, artificial neural networks (ANN) and Gaussian logit regression (GLR)] in different situations of data manipulation. We tested whether log-transformation of environmental gradients and square-root transformation of species data improved the predictive abilities and the reconstruction capabilities of the different calibration methods and discussed them in regard to species response models along environmental gradients. Using a calibration data set from New England, we showed that all methods adequately modelled the variables pH, alkalinity and total phosphorus (TP), as indicated by similar root mean square errors of prediction. However, WAT had lower performance statistics than simple WA and showed some unusual values in reconstruction, but setting a minimum tolerance for the modern species, such as available in the new computer program C2 version 1.4, resolved these problems. Validation with the instrumental record from Walden Pond (Massachusetts, USA) showed that WA and WAT reconstructed most closely pH and that GLR reconstructions showed the best agreement with measured alkalinity, whereas ANN and GLR models were superior in reconstructing the secondary gradient variable TP. Log-transformation of environmental gradients improved model performance for alkalinity, but not much for TP. While square-root transformation of species data improved the performance of the ANN models, they did not affect the WA models. Untransformed species data resulted in better accordance of the TP inferences with the instrumental record using WA, indicating that, in some cases, ecological information encoded in the modern and fossil species data might be lost by square-root transformation. Thus it may be useful to consider different species data transformations for different environmental reconstructions. This study showed that the tested methods are equally suitable for the reconstruction of parameters that mainly control the diatom assemblages, but that ANN and GLR may be superior in modelling a secondary gradient variable. For example, ANN and GLR may be advantageous for modelling lake nutrient levels in North America, where TP gradients are relatively short.