Joint species distribution modelling with the r-package Hmsc

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Joint Species Distribution Modelling (JSDM) is becoming an increasingly popular statistical method for analysing data in community ecology. Hierarchical Modelling of Species Communities (HMSC) is a general and flexible framework for fitting JSDMs. HMSC allows the integration of community ecology data with data on environmental covariates, species traits, phylogenetic relationships and the spatio-temporal context of the study, providing predictive insights into community assembly processes from non-manipulative observational data of species communities. The full range of functionality of HMSC has remained restricted to Matlab users only. To make HMSC accessible to the wider community of ecologists, we introduce Hmsc 3.0, a user-friendly r implementation. We illustrate the use of the package by applying Hmsc 3.0 to a range of case studies on real and simulated data. The real data consist of bird counts in a spatio-temporally structured dataset, environmental covariates, species traits and phylogenetic relationships. Vignettes on simulated data involve single-species models, models of small communities, models of large species communities and models for large spatial data. We demonstrate the estimation of species responses to environmental covariates and how these depend on species traits, as well as the estimation of residual species associations. We demonstrate how to construct and fit models with different types of random effects, how to examine MCMC convergence, how to examine the explanatory and predictive powers of the models, how to assess parameter estimates and how to make predictions. We further demonstrate how Hmsc 3.0 can be applied to normally distributed data, count data and presence–absence data. The package, along with the extended vignettes, makes JSDM fitting and post-processing easily accessible to ecologists familiar with r.


  • Gleb Tikhonov
  • Øystein H. Opedal
  • Nerea Abrego
  • Aleksi Lehikoinen
  • Melinda M.J. de Jonge
  • Jari Oksanen
  • Otso Ovaskainen
External organisations
  • Norwegian University of Science and Technology
  • Radboud University Nijmegen
  • Aalto University
  • University of Helsinki
  • Helsinki University of Technology
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Ecology


  • community ecology, community modelling, community similarity, hierarchical modelling of species communities, joint species distribution modelling, multivariate data, species distribution modelling
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)442-447
JournalMethods in Ecology and Evolution
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2020 Mar 1
Publication categoryResearch
Externally publishedYes