Biogeosciences just published a discussion paper on a project I have been working on for quite a while now, namely on likelihood approximations for stochastic forest models (see also our review on the topic of simulation-based inference in general). From the technical side, it may be interesting that we don’t use Approximate Bayesian Computation (ABC), but a parametric approximation method similar to the methods of moments that was used by Wood (2010), which worked really well. The biogeosciences discussion paper format allows for comments to be made by anyone, so if you have any feel free to submit them there. Below a part of the abstract:
“Deriving likelihoods for dynamic models requires making assumptions about the probability for observations to deviate from mean model predictions. For technical reasons, these assumptions are usually derived without explicit consideration of the processes in the simulation. Only in recent years have new methods become available that allow generating likelihoods directly from stochastic simulations. Previous applications of these approximate Bayesian methods have concentrated on relatively simple models. Here, we report on the application of a simulation-based likelihood approximation for FORMIND, a parameter-rich individual-based model of tropical forest dynamics.
We show that approximate Bayesian inference, based on a parametric likelihood approximation placed in a conventional MCMC, performs well in retrieving known parameter values from virtual field data generated by the forest model. We analyze the results of the parameter estimation, examine the sensitivity towards the choice and aggregation of model outputs and observed data (summary statistics), and show results from using this method to fit the FORMIND model to field data from an Ecuadorian tropical forest. Finally, we discuss differences of this approach to Approximate Bayesian Computing (ABC), another commonly used method to generate simulation-based likelihood approximations.
Our results demonstrate that simulation-based inference, which offers considerable conceptual advantages over more traditional methods for inverse parameter estimation, can successfully be applied to process-based models of high complexity. The methodology is particularly suited to heterogeneous and complex data structures and can easily be adjusted to other model types, including most stochastic population and individual-based models. Our study therefore provides a blueprint for a fairly general approach to parameter estimation of stochastic process-based models in ecology and evolution.”