Compositional data analysis (CoDA) as a tool to study the (paleo)ecology of coccolithophores from coastal-neritic settings off central Portugal

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Whereas using the species percentages is the standard analytical procedure used to infer species ecological preferences, independently of taphonomical effects, the closure problem associated with closed number systems and subsequent inconsistency of determining percentages may lead to spurious correlations, biased statistical analysis and misleading interpretations. To avoid these problems, we applied Compositional Data Analysis (CoDA) to investigate the (paleo)ecological preferences and spatial distribution of coccolith assemblages preserved in seafloor sediments, using as a case-study the central Portuguese submarine canyons and adjacent shelf-slope areas. Results from using the isometric log-ratio (ilr) approach from CoDA are compared with results from using classical analytical methods, and further discussed. While providing scale invariance and subcompositional coherence, CoDA is revealed to be a consistent statistical tool to infer the (paleo)ecological preferences of coccolithophores, corroborating earlier work based on from percentage determinations. Results of this study clearly confirmed the coastal-neritic distribution of coccoliths from Gephyrocapsa oceanica, Helicosphaera carteri and Coronosphaera mediterranea, whereas coccoliths from Calcidiscus leptoporus, Umbilicosphaera sibogae, Umbellosphaera irregularis and Rhabdosphaera spp. more typically occur offshore. Differences between canyons and adjacent shelf and slope areas were also confirmed, namely the (a) greater importance of the coastal-neritic assemblage possibly resulting from local and persistent nutrient pumping in these areas, and (b) stronger mixing of coccoliths from coastal and oceanic species in upper canyon reaches, resulting from the focused coastward advection of more oceanic water masses along their axes. Unlike the results from both ilr-coordinates and the percentage approaches, both coccolith concentrations and fluxes showed that spatial trends in which the species ecological inter-relationships appear to be masked by taphonomical phenomena, especially towards the coast and in the canyons, suggesting the two latter approaches are not suitable to perform (paleo)ecological inferences in more dynamic coastal-neritic settings. Our study suggests that the (paleo)ecological signal preserved in the studied sediment samples is persistent enough to be revealed by both CoDA and percentages. Yet, given that CoDA provides the only statistical solution to coherently draw (paleo)ecological interpretations from compositional data, our recommendation is that CoDA should always be used to test and validate any ecological signals obtained from percentage distributions ​
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