Fourth-corner correlation is a score test statistic in a log-linear trait–environment model that is useful in permutation testing

Cajo J.F. ter Braak*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


Ecologists wish to understand the role of traits of species in determining where each species occurs in the environment. For this, they wish to detect associations between species traits and environmental variables from three data tables, species count data from sites with associated environmental data and species trait data from data bases. These three tables leave a missing part, the fourth-corner. The fourth-corner correlations between quantitative traits and environmental variables, heuristically proposed 20 years ago, fill this corner. Generalized linear (mixed) models have been proposed more recently as a model-based alternative. This paper shows that the squared fourth-corner correlation times the total count is precisely the score test statistic for testing the linear-by-linear interaction in a Poisson log-linear model that also contains species and sites as main effects. For multiple traits and environmental variables, the score test statistic is proportional to the total inertia of a doubly constrained correspondence analysis. When the count data are over-dispersed compared to the Poisson or when there are other deviations from the model such as unobserved traits or environmental variables that interact with the observed ones, the score test statistic does not have the usual chi-square distribution. For these types of deviations, row- and column-based permutation methods (and their sequential combination) are proposed to control the type I error without undue loss of power (unless no deviation is present), as illustrated in a small simulation study. The issues for valid statistical testing are illustrated using the well-known Dutch Dune Meadow data set.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)219-242
JournalEnvironmental and Ecological Statistics
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Community ecology
  • Correspondence analysis
  • Fourth-corner
  • Permutation test
  • Score test statistic
  • Trait–environment association


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