I am trying to run a Generalized Linear Mixed Model on some data. What I am trying to do is use distances from habitat features to predict a distance between 2 animal locations. I ran a PCA on the habitat variables, and selected 5 Principal Components to include. The data is badly uneven and has pseudoreplication as I sampled animals over multiple years (Random factor of Animal and Year). I was told to use the glmmPQL code from the MASS package and have had generally good luck early on with it, until however, I tried to run this code.


I get the error:

Error: no valid set of coefficients has been found: please supply starting values
In addition: Warning message:
In log(ifelse(y == 0, 1, y/mu)) : NaNs produced

After quite a lot of looking I found a helpful answer here -> https://stackoverflow.com/questions/6043841/glm-nb-with-sqrt-link-using-r

I tried running it, beginning with a simplified model


But when I tried to use the coefficients in the form given as starting values


I realized that for glmmPQL you get multiple different coefficients for the intercept, as far as I can tell as a result of using Random factors. So essentially my question at long last is, can I use the intercept coefficient given when I run


And not worry about the multiple different values for the intercept coefficient, or is there another way that I just haven't managed to track down.

I have attached the dataset that is giving me problems below. I've tried my best to include everything that one might need to understand what I am asking, but I never seem to get it all down right, so if you need anymore info or clarification, please let me know.

Also, as a side, if anyone knows what the warning "In log(ifelse(y == 0, 1, y/mu)) : NaNs produced" means, I would love a quick lesson. I haven't really looked that one up yet though, so I imagine it has likely been answered before elsewhere.

Thanks in advance,


EDIT: I just now realized that this may be better placed in Cross Validated. Not sure if it should be moved or not. If anyone thinks this isn't the appropriate place for it please let me know and I'll move it over. Thanks.

structure(list(Distance = c(8652.28218489429, 34515.0499360429, 
13422.36479805, 2198.723668712, 2466.26534136143, 1172.74821765, 
21201.8807833714, 20849.9242741857, 8380.37620707143, 9084.62233994286, 
76662.0061293571, 7440.67952042857, 5056.96455740143, 10929.25085166, 
8070.531642568, 4498.00208371571, 4619.498988172, 1764.5402885695, 
13130.1924201333, 4744.33628052857, 8697.47577671429, 79927.6021957714, 
30080.6011465286, 21873.5380787143, 566.245715504857, 15138.1604619429, 
1859.50570863329, 14039.9461915, 5022.93125377857, 7728.33268236286
), PC1 = c(-9.20961054440026, -8.22881214940447, -1.26320485068402, 
-1.88583141566964, 2.99834208412174, 3.04215174230419, -0.766695340745148, 
0.735229906834534, 2.32686247490184, 2.31780475706044, 0.308929257579307, 
-2.20775667813299, -1.87371154127968, 1.38637016290993, 2.1448692184077, 
2.66036523350783, 2.29882505245925, -1.15403039166013, -0.940347362165179, 
-1.53660098100142, -1.91793301909288, -2.59815155458387, 1.56595604420367, 
1.23556277091171, 0.96452943223471, 0.969865750008103, 2.31141646195859, 
2.18867723740005, 2.10330882943435, 2.02361941258173), PC2 = c(2.513457458921, 
1.39006836165313, 0.976211435585022, 1.98022059968544, -0.930280794223418, 
-0.908480231794788, -1.87943285539628, -0.221753725212705, -2.09976115719695, 
-1.73429789916951, 1.53155977977225, -2.03200946293869, -2.19468937121067, 
2.71201044916189, 2.31809496737017, -0.561189572576716, -0.914371814710762, 
-3.09088401547117, -3.2367657712996, -1.47899640213998, -2.27291457674218, 
-3.06844033447764, 0.361357083034496, 2.87493176893121, 2.50774284831908, 
4.48307464510535, 0.719590157678573, 0.950207337579048, 0.519935894659001, 
0.785805197105419), PC3 = c(-0.593605656941536, -2.41169312700627, 
3.42245477165316, 2.32103325600927, -1.20421752405871, -2.12543152051203, 
1.50297591603228, 0.907752402890159, -0.715719837216544, -0.176667860796774, 
0.0977877384294157, -1.09054058162888, 2.09460400960772, -0.351521263276547, 
-2.03216436108758, -0.320967045260432, 0.396002884511102, -1.98885693487832, 
-1.44797012685519, 1.66954160608131, 2.59674418325189, -1.61006342676716, 
1.96179779588314, -0.447937419038047, 0.356740333334006, -0.990664949264204, 
-0.877768580933614, -0.495455616180557, 0.925094811092282, 0.628716122926644
), PC4 = c(1.78952902698518, 1.37340407841083, 1.6005908999068, 
0.732968194465993, 0.653824753615599, 0.665077696404537, -1.77358082516927, 
-0.795990779624489, 1.76153535832313, 1.75203314538194, -0.420521200059536, 
-1.4582340543487, -2.3603861882907, -1.02663076885461, -3.05114382636744, 
2.38437628800937, 2.50094107639545, -0.800037012551982, 0.10243484375005, 
-0.701971577780459, -1.18504466447402, -0.841894048083002, 1.33130718114457, 
-0.710519955969351, -1.06462398825632, -0.810160377589491, 0.368973290550095, 
0.457777535462269, -0.303437881177987, -0.170596220208466), PC5 = c(0.555128333959788, 
0.0882078004966836, -1.01890769816862, -2.29901235898111, 0.587097003218695, 
0.582234518107283, 1.40833083334084, 0.186737986394422, -0.257648867957099, 
-0.372611594774928, -0.535146836463824, 0.248564759734062, 0.304219930919185, 
-0.112531496920674, -3.16536688393648, 0.0979783253130196, -0.541422716558147, 
-1.18312027810175, -0.400586796060056, 1.18985680973737, 0.482520572601662, 
-0.494206152873624, -0.986186427260261, 0.766947964203955, -0.24527554959318, 
1.87753157251745, 0.976222715049242, 1.07223174760341, 0.445515513095953, 
0.742697271356733), Animal = structure(c(1L, 1L, 2L, 3L, 4L, 
4L, 5L, 5L, 6L, 6L, 7L, 8L, 8L, 9L, 9L, 10L, 10L, 11L, 11L, 12L, 
12L, 13L, 13L, 14L, 15L, 16L, 17L, 17L, 18L, 18L), .Label = c("107", 
"108", "109", "111", "112", "170", "172", "173", "175", "176", 
"177", "179", "180", "181", "182", "183", "184", "188"), class = "factor"), 
    Year = structure(c(1L, 2L, 2L, 2L, 1L, 2L, 1L, 2L, 1L, 2L, 
    2L, 1L, 2L, 1L, 2L, 1L, 2L, 1L, 2L, 1L, 2L, 1L, 2L, 1L, 1L, 
    1L, 1L, 2L, 1L, 2L), .Label = c("2010", "2011"), class = "factor")), .Names = c("Distance", 
"PC1", "PC2", "PC3", "PC4", "PC5", "Animal", "Year"), row.names = c(NA, 
-30L), class = "data.frame")
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Just a note: the default link for the Gamma family is the inverse link. This is fairly obscure; I'll bet that the log link is what you're really after. $\endgroup$
    – Hong Ooi
    Jul 14, 2013 at 6:05
  • $\begingroup$ Hey @HongOoi, this may not be the right place for this, but if I use the log link would I include it as family=Gamma(link=log) or change it over to to family=gaussian(link=log)? I'm a bit out of my depth with this stuff. I am trying not to transform my data, and thats why I am using a Gaussian distribution. They both come up with similar coefficients (not quite identical). $\endgroup$ Jul 14, 2013 at 6:19
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ You can check the distribution of your residuals to help you with that. I haven't used glmmPQL, but what you can do is fit the gaussian model first, then see what the fitted vs resid plot looks like. If the spread of the resids increases strongly with the size of the fitted value, you want a gamma model. $\endgroup$
    – Hong Ooi
    Jul 14, 2013 at 6:23
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks @HongOoi, when I fit the model with family=gaussian(link=log) the fitted values versus standardized residuals (I think this is the same thing as you suggested... its the standard plot function for glmmPQL) it increases asymptotically, when I fit it using family=Gamma(link=log) it looks like it increases linearly. When I fit it with family=Gamma and don't specify a link function the residuals are generally horizontal with a few outliers. I feel like Gamma with no link function specified would be the way to go then...? Sorry, and thanks for the help. $\endgroup$ Jul 14, 2013 at 6:32
  • $\begingroup$ I've flagged this to be moved to CV. On that site, you might want to edit the post to make it clear you're also looking for statistical model-fitting advice. Else they might just move it back. $\endgroup$
    – Hong Ooi
    Jul 14, 2013 at 7:55

1 Answer 1


I'm sorry to be negative, but I think there are a number of reasons that what you're doing won't work very well.

  • As a rule of thumb (see e.g. Harrell 2001 Regression Modeling Strategies), you need at least 10 data points per parameter estimated to expect a reliable answer: you have 30 data points for 5 principal component slope parameters, and that's not even counting the random effects variances (which are generally even harder to estimate than fixed effect parameters).
  • it doesn't work very well to estimate random effects from fewer than approx. 5 levels, so a random effect of year (where you've only measured 2 values) is probably not a good idea.
  • I don't think lme (on which glmmPQL is built) can handle crossed effects, so without knowing it I think you're probably fitting Year nested within Individual.

Let's look at the data:

source("heidel.dat")  ## get data
theme_set(theme_bw())  ## cosmetic


enter image description here

There doesn't seem to be much going on here, but if I did want to try I would probably forego the Gamma model and just look at logged data:


At the risk of snooping, let's look at the marginal effects of all 5 PC variables to see if any of them looks like it's doing anything:

mdat <- melt(dat,id.var=c("Distance","Animal","Year"))

zmargin <- theme(panel.margin=unit(0,"lines"))  ## 

enter image description here

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Hey @Ben, better you be negative now than someone else be negative during my defense. Thanks for the help. I assume running the lmer code on the log distances still has the same issues as the glmmPQL when trying to include multiple parameters with small datasets? $\endgroup$ Jul 14, 2013 at 18:19
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Yes: that's a fundamental data limitation. I would still trust lme4 more than glmmPQL. I also tried this problem with the glmmLasso package -- as expected, it throws out all the PC variables ... $\endgroup$
    – Ben Bolker
    Jul 14, 2013 at 18:53
  • $\begingroup$ Ah wonderful. Well, thanks for the help anyways. Guess its time to head back to the committee for some guidance. Thanks @BenBolker $\endgroup$ Jul 14, 2013 at 20:54
  • $\begingroup$ They should not be expecting you to extract lots of meaningful information from this small and noisy a data set. I could see getting one fixed-effect regressor estimated from it (although in this case it doesn't look like you have anything -- sorry.) $\endgroup$
    – Ben Bolker
    Jul 14, 2013 at 21:22

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