Inferring community assembly processes from macroscopic patterns using dynamic eco-evolutionary models and Approximate Bayesian Computation (ABC)

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article


Statistical techniques exist for inferring community assembly processes from community patterns. Habitat filtering, competition, and biogeographical effects have, for example, been inferred from signals in phenotypic and phylogenetic data. The usefulness of current inference techniques is, however, debated as a mechanistic and causal link between process and pattern is often lacking, and evolutionary processes and trophic interactions are ignored. Here, we revisit the current knowledge on community assembly across scales and, in line with several reviews that have outlined challenges associated with current inference techniques, we identify a discrepancy between the current paradigm of eco-evolutionary community assembly and current inference techniques that focus mainly on competition and habitat filtering. We argue that trait-based dynamic eco-evolutionary models in combination with recently developed model fitting and model evaluation techniques can provide avenues for more accurate, reliable, and inclusive inference. To exemplify, we implement a trait-based, spatially explicit eco-evolutionary model and discuss steps of model modification, fitting, and evaluation as an iterative approach enabling inference from diverse data sources. Through a case study on inference of prey and predator niche width in an eco-evolutionary context, we demonstrate how inclusive and mechanistic approaches—eco-evolutionary modelling and Approximate Bayesian Computation (ABC)—can enable inference of assembly processes that have been largely neglected by traditional techniques despite the ubiquity of such processes. Much literature points to the limitations of current inference techniques, but concrete solutions to such limitations are few. Many of the challenges associated with novel inference techniques are, however, already to some extent resolved in other fields and thus ready to be put into action in a more formal way for inferring processes of community assembly from signals in various data sources.


External organisations
  • University of Zurich
  • Umeå University
  • International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Bioinformatics (Computational Biology)


  • biogeography, community assembly, community structure, ecology, evolution, process inference
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)450-460
Number of pages11
JournalMethods in Ecology and Evolution
Issue number4
Early online date2018
Publication statusPublished - 2019
Publication categoryResearch

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