O'Dwyer, J.,Rominger, A.,Xiao, X.

Simplified mechanistic models in ecology have been criticised for the fact that a good fit to data does not imply the mechanism is true: pattern does not equal process. In parallel, the maximum entropy principle (MaxEnt) has been applied in ecology to make predictions constrained by just a handful of state variables, like total abundance or species richness. But an outstanding question remains: what principle tells us which state variables to constrain? Here we attempt to solve both problems simultaneously, by translating a given set of mechanisms into the state variables to be used in MaxEnt, and then using this MaxEnt theory as a null model against which to compare mechanistic predictions. In particular, we identify the sufficient statistics needed to parametrise a given mechanistic model from data and use them as MaxEnt constraints. Our approach isolates exactly what mechanism is telling us over and above the state variables alone.