The multivariate analysis of variance as a powerful approach for circular data

Lukas Landler*, Graeme D. Ruxton, E. Pascal Malkemper

*Corresponding author for this work

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A broad range of scientific studies involve taking measurements on a circular, rather than linear, scale (often variables related to times or orientations). For linear measures there is a well-established statistical toolkit based on linear modelling to explore the associations between this focal variable and potentially several explanatory factors and covariates. In contrast, statistical testing of circular data is much simpler, often involving either testing whether variation in the focal measurements departs from circular uniformity, or whether a single explanatory factor with two levels is supported.

We use simulations and example data sets to investigate the usefulness of a MANOVA approach for circular data in comparison to commonly used statistical tests.

Here we demonstrate that a MANOVA approach based on the sines and cosines of the circular data is as powerful as the most-commonly used tests when testing deviation from a uniform distribution, while additionally offering extension to multi-factorial modelling that these conventional circular statistical tests do not.

The herein presented MANOVA approach offers a substantial broadening of the scientific questions that can be addressed statistically using circular data.
Original languageEnglish
Article number21
Number of pages10
JournalMovement Ecology
Publication statusPublished - 27 Apr 2022


  • Rayleigh test
  • Directional data
  • Orientation
  • Periodicity


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