I have data on the interval (0,1), that I model using beta regression with the betareg package in R. This works well. However, I would like to account for some level of spatial auto-correlation of the residuals. I have done this in the past for linear models using the gls function of the nlme package in R.

The closest I can get to this is using the gam function within the mgcv package for R. I can specify a beta distribution and fit an extra term that is a spline function of latitude and longitude. Code here:

mod <- gam(y ~ x1 + x2 + s(latitude, longitude), 
           family = betar(link='logit'), 
           data = data)

However, this fits y to the spatial relationship, rather than the residuals. How can I go about fitting the residuals? I can do this by adding a correlation structure using the gamm from the mgcv package, and adding an uninformative random effect, however I'm pretty sure this does not play well with beta regression. All of the output I have received is non-sensical (i.e. (-) r2 values, compared to output before spatial autocorrelation was modeled I obtained r2 of 0.20-0.30. It also gives a warning that the "extended family" of distributions in mgcv are not compatible with gamm. So, its not surprising this does not work.

mod <- gamm(y ~ x1 + x2,  
            random = list(rando=~1), 
            family = betar(link='logit'), 
            correlation =  corExp(form = ~longitude + latitude, nugget=T),
            data = data)

Is there any way to account for auto-correlation in a beta-distributed response variable? I imagine this may be hard, as the fitted magnitude of residuals are not always as large for one side of the distribution as the other.

  • $\begingroup$ Do you have a specific model in mind for the residual correlation? That seems like it would be a difficult thing to formulate. An alternative that is often effective is to include spatially lagged variables in the model: you could implement that simply by computing their values and including them in your current model. $\endgroup$
    – whuber
    Aug 31, 2016 at 18:05
  • $\begingroup$ @whuber expecting a negative exponential relationship in the residuals based on other analyses. Can you give a reference for incorporating spatially lagged variables and explain how you would do this? $\endgroup$
    – colin
    Aug 31, 2016 at 18:21
  • $\begingroup$ Maybe it could help to describe why you do not want to use the classic approach of transforming the response (e.g. logit) and then applying a standard regression technique that allows spatially correlated disturbances. $\endgroup$
    – Michael M
    Sep 6, 2016 at 17:26
  • $\begingroup$ @MichaelM I would point to the original article by Ferari and Crab-Neto 2004 where they state, "A possible solution is to transform the dependent variable so that it assumes values on the real line, and then model the mean of the transformed response as a linear predictor based on a set of exogenous variables...Another shortcoming is that measures of proportions typically display asymmetry, and hence inference based on the normality assumption can be misleading". Also, a lm of logit transform data on the interval (0,1) can fit models that have predictions beyond the interval (0,1). $\endgroup$
    – colin
    Sep 6, 2016 at 17:33
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ To be unbiased, I'd advise also to think of all potential problems related to beta regression like convergence issues, no exact tests, less extensions, less experience with model diagnostics etc. Don't get me wrong: beta regression can be sweet but it is just one of many options when dealing with responsed in the unit interval. $\endgroup$
    – Michael M
    Sep 6, 2016 at 19:44

1 Answer 1


We can think of our observations as arising from some distribution with a mean structure component and a covariance component. Essentially we have

$$y = \boldsymbol{X\beta} + \mathbf{Zb} + \epsilon$$

where $\mathbf{X}$ and $\mathbf{Z}$ are design matrices of fixed and random effects respectively and $\epsilon$ is the unexplained variation.

We can model spatial or temporal autocorrelation by including in our model something that accounts for the spatial or temporal separation of the observations. We can do this either in the fixed/random effects part of the model or in the covariance structure of model.

For example, in a simple linear regression model assuming independent observations we have

$$y \sim \mathcal{N}(\boldsymbol{X\beta}, \sigma_{\epsilon}^2\mathbf{I})$$

where $\mathbf{I}$ is an identity matrix (hence the i.i.d. assumption). We might proceed to include a spatial or temporal correlation effect via $\mathbf{Zb}$, using basis functions, such that our model becomes

$$y \sim \mathcal{N}(\boldsymbol{X\beta} + \mathbf{Zb}, \sigma_{\epsilon}^2\mathbf{I})$$

This is known as the first-order form.

Alternatively we include the spatial or temporal correlation in the covariance function of the random effects, in that case our model might be

$$y = \boldsymbol{X\beta} + \boldsymbol{\eta} + \epsilon$$

where $\boldsymbol{\epsilon} \sim \mathcal{N}(0, \sigma_{\epsilon}^2\mathbf{I})$ and $\boldsymbol{\eta} \sim \mathcal{N}(0, \sigma_{\alpha}^2\mathbf{R})$ where the random effect $\boldsymbol{\eta}$ results in correlated errors, resulting in

$$y \sim \mathcal{N}(\mathbf{X\beta}, \sigma_{\epsilon}^2\mathbf{I} + \sigma_{\alpha}^2\mathbf{R})$$

Here $\mathbf{R}$ is specified via a correlation function such as the exponential correlation function you mentions.

This is known as the second-order form. The second-order form might be more common, especially in spatial statistics with the ecological and environmental sciences, but the first-order form is useful too.

These two forms can be equivalent for some models, where the basis functions in $\boldsymbol{Z}$ can be derived from the correlation function or matrix $\boldsymbol{R}$.

The above was cribbed from sections of Hefley et al (submitted), which is available on arXiv as a preprint.

(A third form might be $y \sim \mathcal{N}(\boldsymbol{X\beta}, \sigma_{\epsilon}^2\mathbf{R})$, which is what gamm() with correlation = corFOO() produces.)

As to why I mention this, I believe you can achieve what you want with gam() via a first-order form model derived from the spline-equivalent of kriging.

For this you would use the following model in R:

mod <- gam(y ~ x1 + x2 + s(latitude, longitude, bs = "gp", m = 2), 
           family = betar(link='logit'), 
           data = data)

Implicit here is that the splines will be treated as random effects (with the components of any penalty null space as fixed effects) but for none-general-family functions you could request this via method = "REML" or "ML". With m = 2, this selects a power exponential correlation function with range $r$ estimated from the data according to the method of Kammann and Wand (2003):

$$\hat{r} = \max_{1 \leq i, j \leq n} \left\lVert x_i - x_j \right\rVert$$

and power = 1. If you want to specify the range and or the power, then you need to supply a vector to m: m = c(2, 100, 1) would be a power exponential function with range parameter 100 and power 1. Other values of the m (or the first element when specified in vector form give different correlation function including spherical and three Matern covariance functions).

The assumption now is that given x and y and the random effects $\boldsymbol{Z}$ (given by the Gaussian process spline == kriging) and any model parameters, the residuals are i.i.d. Whether this is the case will depend on how flexible the Guassian process (kriging) part of the model is.

With this method I don't think specify a nugget and you have to manually specify the range parameter unless you want it to be taken as the largest separation between any two points in the sample. The detail for the implementation is in ?mgcv:::smooth.construct.gp.smooth.spec

You can read more about the first-order and second-order forms in a paper by Hefley et al (submitted).

I will also add that in practice, what you've already done using a thin-plate spline for location is also a first-order form model and hence you might not be able to do much or any better with the GP spline I mention above. Information in Hefley et al (submitted) might direct you at alternative ways to approach this model, perhaps using Bayesian methods where you might have more control of exactly how the spatial structure can be specified.

Hefley, T. J., Broms, K. M., Brost, B. M., Buderman, F. E., Kay, S. L., Scharf, H. R., … Hooten, M. B. (2016, June 17). The basis function approach for modeling autocorrelation in ecological data. arXiv [stat.AP]. Retrieved from http://arxiv.org/abs/1606.05658

Kammann, E. E., & Wand, M. P. (2003). Geoadditive models. Journal of the Royal Statistical Society. Series C, Applied Statistics, 52(1), 1–18. http://doi.org/10.1111/1467-9876.00385


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.