Investigating the effects of rice farming on aquatic birds with mixed modelling

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Ecologists are frequently interested in describing differences among the ecological communities that occur in habitats with different characteristics. In an ideal world, experimental methods would standardise situations such that each habitat variable could be altered separately in order to investigate their individual effects. This approach works well in simple ecosystems that can be replicated at small spatial scales. Unfortunately, the world is not always simple and many situations cannot be experimentally manipulated. Investigating specific applied questions, in particular, often can be done only at the spatial scales at which the applied phenomena occur and within the logistical constraints imposed by the system under study. In such cases, one is often left with the choice between collecting “messy” data that are difficult to analyse or avoiding the research questions entirely. In this chapter, we investigate just such a case, in which applied ecological questions were of interest, but experimental influence over the system was not possible.