Combining the fourth-corner and the RLQ methods for assessing trait responses to environmental variation

S. Dray, P. Choler, S. Dolédec, P.R. Peres-Neto, W. Thuiller, S. Pavoine, C.J.F. ter Braak

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

352 Citations (Scopus)


Assessing trait responses to environmental gradients requires the simultaneous analysis of the information contained in three tables: L (species distribution across samples), R (environmental characteristics of samples) and Q (species traits). Among the available methods, the so-called fourth-corner and RLQ methods are two appealing alternatives that provide a direct way to test and estimate trait-environment relationships. Both methods are based on the analysis of the fourth-corner matrix which crosses traits and environmental variables weighted by species abundances. However, they greatly differ in their outputs: RLQ is a multivariate technique that provides ordination scores to summarize the joint structure among the three tables, whereas the fourth-corner method mainly tests for individual trait-environment relationships (i.e. one trait and one environmental variable at a time). Here, we illustrate how the complementarity between these two methods can be exploited to promote new ecological knowledge and to improve the study of trait-environment relationships. After a short description of each method, we apply them to real ecological data to present their different outputs and provide hints about the gain resulting from their combined use. Read More:
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)14-21
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • co-inertia analysis
  • species traits
  • community ecology
  • plant
  • variables
  • linking


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