Four principles for improved statistical ecology

Gordana Popovic, Tanya J. Mason, Tiago A. Marques, Joanne Potts, Szymon M. Drobniak, Rocío Joo, Res Altwegg, Carolyn C. I. Burns, Michael A. McCarthy, Alison Johnston, Shinichi Nakagawa, Louise McMillan, Kadambari Devarajan, Patrick l. Taggart, Alison C. Wunderlich, Magdalena M. Mair, Juan Andrés Martínez-Lanfranco, Malgorzata Lagisz, Patrice P. Pottier

Research output: Working paperPreprint


Increasing attention has been drawn to the misuse of statistical methods over recent years, with particular concern about the prevalence of practices such as poor experimental design, cherry-picking and inadequate reporting. These failures are largely unintentional and no more common in ecology than in other scientific disciplines, with many of them easily remedied given the right guidance. Originating from a discussion at the 2020 International Statistical Ecology Conference, we show how ecologists can build their research following four guiding principles for impactful statistical research practices: 1. Define a focused research question, then plan sampling and analysis to answer it; 2. Develop a model that accounts for the distribution and dependence of your data; 3. Emphasise effect sizes to replace statistical significance with ecological relevance; 4. Report your methods and findings in sufficient detail so that your research is valid and reproducible. Listed in approximate order of importance, these principles provide a framework for experimental design and reporting that guards against unsound practices. Starting with a well-defined research question allows researchers to create an efficient study to answer it, and guards against poor research practices that lead to false positives and poor replicability. Correct and appropriate statistical models give sound conclusions, good reporting practices and a focus on ecological relevance make results impactful and replicable. Illustrated with an example from a recent study into the impact of disturbance on upland swamps, this paper explains the rationale for the selection and use of effective statistical practices and provides practical guidance for ecologists seeking to improve their use of statistical methods.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages19
Publication statusPublished - 3 Feb 2023


  • Statistical principles
  • HARKing
  • p-hacking
  • Ecological relevance
  • Statistical significance
  • Reproducibility
  • Research waste
  • Assumptions


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