Testing a new multigroup inference approach to reconstructing past environmental conditions
AbstractA new, quantitative, inference model for environmental reconstruction (transfer function), based for the first time on the simultaneous analysis of multigroup species, has been developed. Quantitative reconstructions based on palaeoecological transfer functions provide a powerful tool for addressing questions of environmental change in a wide range of environments, from oceans to mountain lakes, and over a range of timescales, from decades to millions of years. Much progress has been made in the development of inferences based on multiple proxies but usually these have been considered separately, and the different numeric reconstructions compared and reconciled post-hoc. This paper presents a new method to combine information from multiple biological groups at the reconstruction stage. The aim of the multigroup work was to test the potential of the new approach to making improved inferences of past environmental change by improving upon current reconstruction methodologies. The taxonomic groups analysed include diatoms, chironomids and chrysophyte cysts. We test the new methodology using two cold-environment training-sets, namely mountain lakes from the Pyrenees and the Alps. The use of multiple groups, as opposed to single groupings, was only found to increase the reconstruction skill slightly, as measured by the root mean square error of prediction (leave-one-out cross-validation), in the case of alkalinity, dissolved inorganic carbon and altitude (a surrogate for air-temperature), but not for pH or dissolved CO2. Reasons why the improvement was less than might have been anticipated are discussed. These can include the different life-forms, environmental responses and reaction times of the groups under study.
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