Likelihood Methods in Ecology


Maximum likelihood methods have a long history of use for point and interval estimation in statistics. In contrast, likelihood principles have only more gradually emerged as a foundation for an alternative to traditional hypothesis testing via frequentist test statistics. The alternative framework stresses the use of likelihood and information theory as the basis for parameterizing and selecting among competing models, or in the simplest case, among competing point estimates of a parameter of a model.

In contrast to traditional approaches, in which the statistical models are often constrained by the choice of a particular test statistic, a likelihood framework stresses the specification of both the "scientific" model that embodies the hypotheses and relationships to be tested, and the appropriate "probability" model that characterizes the statistical properties of the data and the error structure.

There are 4 general steps involved in a likelihood analysis:

1.     model specification, including both alternate scientific models and appropriate error structures

2.     maximum likelihood parameter estimation, using optimization methods

3.     model comparison, using information theory, and

4.     model evaluation, using a variety of metrics of precision, bias, and goodness of fit.


Recent References

  • Bolker, B. M.  2008.  Ecological Models and Data in R.  Princeton University Press.
  • Pawitan, Y. 2001. In All Likelihood: Statistical Modelling and Inference Using Likelihood. Clarendon Press, Oxford.
  • Royall, R. 1997. Statistical Evidence: A Likelihood Paradigm. Chapman and Hall/CRC, Boca Raton
  • Hilborn, R. and M. Mangel. 1997. The Ecological Detective: Confronting Models with Data. Princeton University Press