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Pólya-splitting distributions as stationary solutions of multivariate birth-death processes under extended neutral theory

  • Peyhardi, Jean
  • Laroche, Fabien
  • Mortier, Frédéric
Publication Date
Jan 01, 2024
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Multivariate count distributions are crucial for the inference of ecological processes underpinning biodiversity. In particular, neutral theory provides useful null distributions allowing the evaluation of adaptation or natural selection. In this paper, we build a broader family of multivariate distributions: the Polya-splitting distributions. We show that they emerge naturally as stationary distributions of a multivariate birth–death process. This family of distributions is a consistent extension of non-zero sum neutral models based on a master equation approach. It allows considering both total abundance of the community and relative abundances of species. We emphasize that this family is large enough to encompass various dependence structures among species. We also introduce the strong closure under addition property that can be useful to generate nested multi-level dependence structures. Although all Pólya splitting distributions do not share this property, we provide numerous example verifying it. They include the previously known example with independent species, and also new ones with alternative dependence structures. Overall, we advocate that Polya-splitting distribution should become a part of the classic toolbox for the analysis of multivariate count data in ecology, providing alternative approaches to joint species distribution framework. Comparatively, our approach allows to model dependencies between species at the observation level, while the classical JSDM's model dependencies at the latent process strata.

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