Statistical treatment and comparative analysis of scale-dependent aquatic transect data in estuarine landscapes

Daniel L. Childers, Fred H. Sklar, Stephen E. Hutchinson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Estuarine ecosystem dynamics have evolved around and respond to landscape-level influences that are dynamic in space and time. The estuarine water column is effectively the physical and biologial integrator of these landscape inputs. In this paper, we present a floating window Analysis of Covariance (ANCOVA) technique to statistically compare and contrast aquatic transect data that were taken at different times and under different tidal conditions, yet were geographically parallel and spatially articulate. The floating window ANCOVA compared two transects by testing whether the means of the dependent variable were significantly different while also testing whether the slopes of patterns in the dependent variable were significantly different. By varying the size of the floating window where the ANCOVA was run, we were able to examine how scale affected the magnitude and spatial pattern of that variable. The percentages of total models run, at a given window size, that generated significantly different magnitudes (means) and patterns (slopes) in the dependent variable were referred to as the "degree of dissimilarity". Plots of window size versus degree of dissimilarity elucidated temporal and spatial variability in water column parameters at a range of scales. The advantages of this new statistical method in relation to traditional spatial statistics are discussed. We demonstrated the efficacy of the floating window ANCOVA method by comparing chlorophyll and salinity transect data taken at the North Inlet, SC estuary during flooding and ebbing tides in Winter, Spring, and Summer 1991. Chlorophyll concentrations represented the biological characteristics of the estuarine water column and salinity represented the physical processes affecting that water column. We found total dissimilarity in the magnitude of salinity data from one season to the next at all scales, but inter-seasonal similarity in spatial patterns over both short (hourly) and long (monthly) time scales. We also found a large seasonal dissimilarity in the magnitude of chlorophyll levels, as expected. Spatial patterns in phytoplankton biomass (as chlorophyll concentrations) appeared to be largely controlled by the physical processes represented with the salinity data. Often, we observed greater dissimilarity in biological and physical parameters from one tide to the next [on a given day] than from one season to the next. In these cases, the greatest flood-ebb differences were associated with landscape-level influences - from rivers and the coastal ocean - that varied greatly with direction of tidal flow. We are currently using spatially articulate aquatic transect data and the floating window ANCOVA technique to validate spatial simulation models at different scales. By using this variable-scale statistical technique to determine coherence between the actual transect data and model output from simulations run at different scales, we will test hypotheses about the scale-dependent relationships between data resolution and model predictability in landscape analysis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)127-141
Number of pages15
JournalLandscape Ecology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1994
Externally publishedYes


  • aquatic transect data
  • coastal landscapes
  • comparative statistics
  • estuaries
  • floating window
  • variable scale analysis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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