We propose a new statistical framework for the exploratory analysis of the ecological niche, the “General niche-environment system factor analysis” (GNESFA). The data required for this analysis are (i) a table giving the values of the environmental variables in each environment unit (EU, e.g., the patches of habitat on a vector map), (ii) a set of weights measuring the availability of the EUs to the species (e.g., the proportion of the study area covered by a given patch), and (iii) a set of utilization weights describing the use of the EUs by the focal species (e.g., the proportion of detections of the species in each patch). Each row of the table corresponds to a point in the multidimensional space defined by the environmental variables, and each point is associated with two weights. The GNESFA searches the directions in this space where the two weight distributions differ the most, choosing one distribution as the reference, and the other one as the focus. The choice of the utilization as the reference corresponds to the MADIFA (Mahalanobis distances factor analysis), which identifies the directions on which the available EUs are in average the furthest from the optimum of the niche, allowing habitat suitability modelling. The choice of the availability as the reference corresponds to the FANTER (Factor analysis of the niche, taking the environment as the reference), which identifies the directions on which the niche is the furthest from the average environment (marginality) and those on which the niche is the narrowest compared with the environment (specialization). The commonly used ENFA (Ecological niche factor analysis) is at the middle point between the MADIFA and the FANTER, considering both distributions as the reference and the focus simultaneously. When used concurrently, these three analyses allow an extensive exploration of the system.
Reference: Calenge C. & Basille M. (2008) A general framework for the statistical exploration of the ecological niche. Journal of Theoretical Biology, 252:674–685. DOI: 10.1016/j.jtbi.2008.02.036