Integrated community models: A framework combining multispecies data sources to estimate the status, trends and dynamics of biodiversity


Data deficiencies among rare or cryptic species preclude assessment of community-level processes using many existing approaches, limiting our understanding of the trends and stressors for large numbers of species. Yet evaluating the dynamics of whole communities, not just common or charismatic species, is critical to understanding and the responses of biodiversity to ongoing environmental pressures. A recent surge in both public science and government-funded data collection efforts has led to a wealth of biodiversity data. However, these data collection programmes use a wide range of sampling protocols (from unstructured, opportunistic observations of wildlife to well-structured, design-based programmes) and record information at a variety of spatiotemporal scales. As a result, available biodiversity data vary substantially in quantity and information content, which must be carefully reconciled for meaningful ecological analysis. Hierarchical modelling, including single-species integrated models and hierarchical community models, has improved our ability to assess and predict biodiversity trends and processes. Here, we highlight the emerging ‘integrated community modelling’ framework that combines both data integration and community modelling to improve inferences on species- and community-level dynamics. We illustrate the framework with a series of worked examples. Our three case studies demonstrate how integrated community models can be used to extend the geographic scope when evaluating species distributions and community-level richness patterns; discern population and community trends over time; and estimate demographic rates and population growth for communities of sympatric species. We implemented these worked examples using multiple software methods through the R platform via packages with formula-based interfaces and through development of custom code in JAGS, NIMBLE and Stan. Integrated community models provide an exciting approach to model biological and observational processes for multiple species using multiple data types and sources simultaneously, thus accounting for uncertainty and sampling error within a unified framework. By leveraging the combined benefits of both data integration and community modelling, integrated community models can produce valuable information about both common and rare species as well as community-level dynamics, allowing for holistic evaluation of the effects of global change on biodiversity.

In: Journal of Animal Ecology (2023)