Diagnosing underdetermination in stable isotope mixing models

Yutaka Osada, Jun Matsubayashi, Ichiro Tayasu

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Stable isotope mixing models (SIMMs) provide a powerful methodology for quantifying relative contributions of several sources to a mixture. They are widely used in the fields of ecology, geology, and archaeology. Although SIMMs have been rapidly evolved in the Bayesian framework, the underdetermination of mixing space remains problematic, i.e., the estimated relative contributions are incompletely identifiable. Here we propose a statistical method to quantitatively diagnose underdetermination in Bayesian SIMMs, and demonstrate the applications of our method (named β-dependent SIMM) using two motivated examples. Using a simulation example, we showed that the proposed method can rigorously quantify the expected underdetermination (i.e., intervals of β-dependent posterior) of relative contributions. Moreover, the application to the published field data highlighted two problematic aspects of the underdetermination: 1) ordinary SIMMs was difficult to quantify underdetermination of each source, and 2) the marginal posterior median was not necessarily consistent with the joint posterior peak in the case of underdetermination. Our study theoretically and numerically confirmed that β-dependent SIMMs provide a useful diagnostic tool for the underdetermined mixing problem. In addition to ordinary SIMMs, we recommend reporting the results of β-dependent SIMMs to obtain a biologically feasible and sound interpretation from stable isotope data.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0257818
JournalPloS one
Issue number10 October
Publication statusPublished - 2021 Oct
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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