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I am designing an experiment with juvenile fishes. There are 12 replicated tanks. In each of the first 6 tanks there is a even mix of male and female fish (100 of each sex in each tank); 3 of these tanks will be treated with chemical A, and 3 treated with chemical B. The remaining 6 tanks will be set up identically but using a different genetic family of fish. The measured response is male and female survival in each tank/treatment.

When constructing a mixed model, I am assuming that this is a simple nested design. Would it be correct to include treatment as a model factor, along with tank, fish sex nested in tank, and genetic ID nested within fish sex? How best to deal with sex and genetic ID is what I am most uncertain about. Any suggestions for coding this in R?

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    $\begingroup$ What is your main hypothesis? Are you trying to test the interaction between genetic family and treatment options? Also, from your description, it seems like gender is 50/50 split for all 12 tanks. Is this true? $\endgroup$
    – Mark White
    Jul 7 '17 at 13:12
  • $\begingroup$ Hi there - the prediction is that chemical treatment differentially affects survival of male and female fish. But I am also exploring whether different genetic lines respond the same way. I should point out that survival is measured as time alive - a continuous variable, not a binomial dead or alive. And yes, sex is split 50/50 in all 12 tanks. Thanks. $\endgroup$
    – GTC
    Jul 7 '17 at 13:20
  • $\begingroup$ Also - I will code in R. $\endgroup$
    – GTC
    Jul 7 '17 at 13:21
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Structure of data

Your data are nested, and here is how I would code it, given your research question:

Level 2: You have 12 different tanks, each of which should have a unique ID number coded as factor (I will code this as tankID). At the tank level, you have two independent variables: genetic family (I will code it as genfam, which is a dichotomous factor) and treatment (I will code it as treat, which is a dichotomous factor).

Level 1: You have $n$ fish, each of which should have a unique ID number coded as factor (I will code this as fishID). You have one independent variable at this level: sex (which I will code as sex, a dichotomous factor). Your dependent variable is at this level (as is the case with multilevel models generally): survival (which I will code as survival, which I assume is either int, num, or dbl).

Your data should look something like:

fishID  tankID  genfam  treat  sex  survival
1       1       A       A      M    12
2       2       A       B      F    8
...     ...     ...     ...    ...  ...

...and so on.

Model code

I will skip the mathematical/Greek notation, unless you are into that. Since you said you are coding in R, I'll go right to how to code it. I would use the lme4 and lmerTest packages to run your model. I will code your data as data. The saturated model would be:

lmer(survival ~ sex * treat * genfam + (1 + sex | tankID), data=data)

What this is saying is that survival is predicted by a three-way interaction between your independent variables of interest (R will automatically fill in all main effects and two-way interactions for you). The stuff in parentheses are the random parts of the model. 1 specifies that there is a different intercept for each tank—called a "random intercept." The sex here means that the effect of sex is allowed to differ across different tanks as well—called a "random slope." The pipe | means that these effects are nested within tank, called tankID. I should also note that genfam and treat are not included here, because they are at Level 2, so the effects of genfam and treat cannot vary by Level 2 clusters.

lme4 does not like testing hypotheses with p-values and t-tests, especially since the degrees of freedom for multilevel models aren't straightforward, so the package lmerTest will automatically add degrees of freedom approximations and p-values. Another option is running likelihood ratio tests with the anova function and using nested models, but with so many predictors in your model, this would likely be too much of a hassle (and I find that the likelihood ratio and lmerTest rarely disagree).

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  • $\begingroup$ +1. Given that everything is balanced here, one should be able to set up a classical ANOVA, but it's of course much easier with lmer. $\endgroup$
    – amoeba
    Jul 7 '17 at 13:48
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, it could be done with ANOVA, but I am partial to a regression approach, especially in R, which does not have the clearest ANOVA functions (and I do not particularly like the ez package). $\endgroup$
    – Mark White
    Jul 7 '17 at 13:54
  • $\begingroup$ Thank you very much indeed - I appreciate your input. I will code this and run it. I will let you know how it turns out. Cheers... $\endgroup$
    – GTC
    Jul 7 '17 at 13:58
  • $\begingroup$ @GTC Great! I'd be glad to look at your R output or if you have any other questions. $\endgroup$
    – Mark White
    Jul 7 '17 at 14:08
  • $\begingroup$ Cheers mate. Will do. GTC $\endgroup$
    – GTC
    Jul 7 '17 at 14:17

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