Re-evaluating causal modeling with mantel tests in landscape genetics

Samuel A. Cushman, Tzeidle N. Wasserman, Erin L. Landguth, Andrew J. Shirk

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

124 Scopus citations


The predominant analytical approach to associate landscape patterns with gene flow processes is based on the association of cost distances with genetic distances between individuals. Mantel and partial Mantel tests have been the dominant statistical tools used to correlate cost distances and genetic distances in landscape genetics. However, the inherent high correlation among alternative resistance models results in a high risk of spurious correlations using simple Mantel tests. Several refinements, including causal modeling, have been developed to reduce the risk of affirming spurious correlations and to assist model selection. However, the evaluation of these approaches has been incomplete in several respects. To demonstrate the general reliability of the causal modeling approach with Mantel tests, it must be shown to be able to correctly identify a wide range of landscape resistance models as the correct drivers relative to alternative hypotheses. The objectives of this study were to (1) evaluate the effectiveness of the originally published causal modeling framework to support the correct model and reject alternative hypotheses of isolation by distance and isolation by barriers and to (2) evaluate the effectiveness of causal modeling involving direct competition of all hypotheses to support the correct model and reject all alternative landscape resistance models. We found that partial Manteltests have very low Type II error rates, but elevated Type I error rates. This leads to frequent identification of support for spurious correlations between alternative resistance hypotheses and genetic distance, independent of the true resistance model. The frequency in which this occurs is directly related to the degree of correlation between true and alternative resistance models. We propose an improvement based on the relative support of the causal modeling diagnostic tests.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)51-72
Number of pages22
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2013


  • Causal modeling
  • Cdpop
  • Landscape genetics
  • Mantel test
  • Simulation


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