Modeling spatial patterns of mixed-species Appalachian forests with Gibbs point processes

TR Number
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Virginia Tech

Stochastic point processes and associated methodology provide a means for the statistical analysis and modeling of the spatial point pattern formed from forest tree stem locations. Stochastic Gibbs point processes were explored as models that could simulate short-range clustering arising from reproduction of trees by stump sprouting, and intermediate-range inhibition of trees that may result from competition for light and growing space. This study developed and compared three pairwise interaction processes with parametric models for 2nd-order potentials and three triplets processes with models for 2nd- and 3rd-order potentials applied to a mixed-species hardwood forest in the Southern Appalachian Mountains of western North Carolina. Although the 2nd-order potentials of both the pairwise interaction and triplets processes were allowed to be purely or partially attractive, the proposed Gibbs point process models were demonstrated to be locally stable. The proposed Gibbs point processes were simulated using Markov Chain Monte Carlo (MCMC) methods; in particular, a reversible-jump Metropolis-Hastings algorithm with birth, death, and shift proposals was utilized. Parameters for the models were estimated by a Bayesian inferential procedure that utilizes MCMC methods to draw samples from the Gibbs posterior density. Two Metropolis-Hastings algorithms that do this sampling were compared; one that estimated ratios of intractable normalizing constants of the Gibbs likelihood by importance sampling and another that introduced an auxiliary variable to cancel the normalizing constants with those in the auxiliary variable's proposal distribution.

Results from this research indicated that attractive pairwise interaction models easily degenerate into excessively clustered patterns, whereas triplets processes with attractive 2nd-order and repulsive 3rd-order interactions are more robust against excessive clustering. Bayesian inference for the proposed triplets models was found to be very computationally expensive. Slow mixing of both algorithms used for the inference combined with the long iteration times limited the practicality of the Bayesian approach. However the results obtained here indicate that triplets processes can be used to draw inference for and simulate patterns of mixed-species Appalachian hardwood forests.

Appalachian hardwood forests, Gibbs point processes, triplets process, Markov Chain Monte Carlo, Ripley's K-function, spatial point pattern