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WiBB: An integrated method for quantifying the relative importance of predictive variables


Li, Qin; Kou, Xiaojun (2021), WiBB: An integrated method for quantifying the relative importance of predictive variables, Dryad, Dataset,


This dataset contains simulated datasets, empirical data, and R scripts described in the paper: “Li, Q. and Kou, X. (2021) WiBB: An integrated method for quantifying the relative importance of predictive variables. Ecography (DOI: 10.1111/ecog.05651)”.

A fundamental goal of scientific research is to identify the underlying variables that govern crucial processes of a system. Here we proposed a new index, WiBB, which integrates the merits of several existing methods: a model-weighting method from information theory (Wi), a standardized regression coefficient method measured by ß* (B), and bootstrap resampling technique (B). We applied the WiBB in simulated datasets with known correlation structures, for both linear models (LM) and generalized linear models (GLM), to evaluate its performance. We also applied two other methods, relative sum of wight (SWi), and standardized beta (ß*), to evaluate their performance in comparison with the WiBB method on ranking predictor importances under various scenarios. We also applied it to an empirical dataset in a plant genus Mimulus to select bioclimatic predictors of species’ presence across the landscape. Results in the simulated datasets showed that the WiBB method outperformed the ß* and SWi methods in scenarios with small and large sample sizes, respectively, and that the bootstrap resampling technique significantly improved the discriminant ability. When testing WiBB in the empirical dataset with GLM, it sensibly identified four important predictors with high credibility out of six candidates in modeling geographical distributions of 71 Mimulus species. This integrated index has great advantages in evaluating predictor importance and hence reducing the dimensionality of data, without losing interpretive power. The simplicity of calculation of the new metric over more sophisticated statistical procedures, makes it a handy method in the statistical toolbox.


To simulate independent datasets (size = 1000), we adopted Galipaud et al.’s approach (2014) with custom modifications of the data.simulation function, which used the multiple normal distribution function rmvnorm in R package mvtnorm(v1.0-5, Genz et al. 2016). Each dataset was simulated with a preset correlation structure between a response variable (y) and four predictors(x1, x2, x3, x4). The first three (genuine) predictors were set to be strongly, moderately, and weakly correlated with the response variable, respectively (denoted by large, medium, small Pearson correlation coefficients, r), while the correlation between the response and the last (spurious) predictor was set to be zero. We simulated datasets with three levels of differences of correlation coefficients of consecutive predictors, where ∆r = 0.1, 0.2, 0.3, respectively. These three levels of ∆r resulted in three correlation structures between the response and four predictors: (0.3, 0.2, 0.1, 0.0), (0.6, 0.4, 0.2, 0.0), and (0.8, 0.6, 0.3, 0.0), respectively. We repeated the simulation procedure 200 times for each of three preset correlation structures (600 datasets in total), for LM fitting later. For GLM fitting, we modified the simulation procedures with additional steps, in which we converted the continuous response into binary data O (e.g., occurrence data having 0 for absence and 1 for presence). We tested the WiBB method, along with two other methods, relative sum of wight (SWi), and standardized beta (ß*), to evaluate the ability to correctly rank predictor importances under various scenarios. The empirical dataset of 71 Mimulus species was collected by their occurrence coordinates and correponding values extracted from climatic layers from WorldClim dataset (, and we applied the WiBB method to infer important predictors for their geographical distributions.

Usage Notes

The README file contains an explanation of simulated and empirical datasets and R scripts for analyses. Information on how the datasets were simulated or compiled, and how different methods were applied and compared can be found in the associated manuscript referenced above.


National Key Research and Development Program of China, Award: 2020YFA0608504