Archive for plague

ABC & the eighth plague of Egypt [locusts in forests]

Posted in Books, pictures, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 6, 2021 by xi'an

“If you refuse to let them go, I will bring locusts into your country tomorrow. They will cover the face of the ground so that it cannot be seen. They will devour what little you have left after the hail, including every tree that is growing in your fields. They will fill your houses and those of all your officials and all the Egyptians.” Exodus 10:3-6

Marie-Pierre Chapuis, Louis Raynal, and co-authors, mostly from Montpellier, published last year a paper on the evolutionary history of the African arid-adapted pest locust, Schistocerca gregaria, called the eighth plague of Egypt in the Bible. And a cause for a major food disaster in East Africa over the past months. The analysis was run with ABC-RF techniques. The paper was first reviewed in PCI Evolutionary Biology, with the following points:

The present-day distribution of extant species is the result of the interplay between their past population demography (e.g., expansion, contraction, isolation, and migration) and adaptation to the environment (…) The understanding of the key factors driving species evolution gives important insights into how the species may respond to changing conditions, which can be particularly relevant for the management of harmful species, such as agricultural pests.

Meaningful demographic inferences present major challenges. These include formulating evolutionary scenarios fitting species biology and the eco-geographical context and choosing informative molecular markers and accurate quantitative approaches to statistically compare multiple demographic scenarios and estimate the parameters of interest. A further issue comes with result interpretation. Accurately dating the inferred events is far from straightforward since reliable calibration points are necessary to translate the molecular estimates of the evolutionary time into absolute time units (i.e. years). This can be attempted in different ways (…) Nonetheless, most experimental systems rarely meet these conditions, hindering the comprehensive interpretation of results.

The contribution of Chapuis et al. addresses these issues to investigate the recent history of the (…) desert locust (…) Owing to their fast mutation rate microsatellite markers offer at least two advantages: i) suitability for analyzing recently diverged populations, and ii) direct estimate of the germline mutation rate in pedigree samples (…) The main aim of the study is to infer the history of divergence of the two subspecies of the desert locust, which have spatially disjoint distribution corresponding to the dry regions of North and West-South Africa. They first use paleo-vegetation maps to formulate hypotheses about changes in species range since the last glacial maximum. Based on them, they generate 12 divergence models. For the selection of the demographic model and parameter estimation, they apply the recently developed ABC-RF approach (…) Some methodological novelties are also introduced in this work, such as the computation of the error associated with the posterior parameter estimates under the best scenario (…) The best-supported model suggests a recent divergence event of the subspecies of S. gregaria (around 2.6 kya) and a reduction of populations size in one of the subspecies (S. g. flaviventris) that colonized the southern distribution area. As such, results did not support the hypothesis that the southward colonization was driven by the expansion of African dry environments associated with the last glacial maximum (…) The estimated time of divergence points at a much more recent origin for the two subspecies, during the late Holocene, in a period corresponding to fairly stable arid conditions similar to current ones. Although the authors cannot exclude that their microsatellite data bear limited information on older colonization events than the last one, they bring arguments in favour of alternative explanations. The hypothesis privileged does not involve climatic drivers, but the particularly efficient dispersal behaviour of the species, whose individuals are able to fly over long distances (up to thousands of kilometers) under favourable windy conditions (…)

There is a growing number of studies in phylogeography in arid regions in the Southern hemisphere, but the impact of past climate changes on the species distribution in this region remains understudied relative to the Northern hemisphere. The study presented by Chapuis et al. offers several important insights into demographic changes and the evolutionary history of an agriculturally important pest species in Africa, which could also mirror the history of other organisms in the continent (…)

Microsatellite markers have been offering a useful tool in population genetics and phylogeography for decades (…) This study reaffirms the usefulness of these classic molecular markers to estimate past demographic events, especially when species- and locus-specific microsatellite mutation features are available and a powerful inferential approach is adopted. Nonetheless, there are still hurdles to overcome, such as the limitations in scenario choice associated with the simulation software used (e.g. not allowing for continuous gene flow in this particular case), which calls for further improvement of simulation tools allowing for more flexible modeling of demographic events and mutation patterns. In sum, this work not only contributes to our understanding of the makeup of the African biodiversity but also offers a useful statistical framework, which can be applied to a wide array of species and molecular markers.



Death won the last chess game [but it took a while]

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , on March 30, 2020 by xi'an

La peste et la vigne [book review]

Posted in Books, Kids, Travel with tags , , , , , , , on March 17, 2019 by xi'an

During my trip to Cambodia, I read the second volume of this fantasy cycle in French. Which I liked almost as much as the first volume since the author continues to explore the mystery of the central character Syffe and its relations with some magical forces at play in his universe. As in most stories uniquely centred on a single character point of view the recurring ponderings of Syffe about his role in life, the existence of supernatural forces, and his own sanity may tend to get annoying at time. But the escape from the mines and the subsequent stay in a mountain kingdom are well-paced, especially the description of the plague that allows such an escape. The last section is more connected with the first volume and sees more warfare, again with sudden reversals of fortune (no further spoiler!). The final chapters see a lot explained about many aspects of the story and the raison d’être of the character, even though the very last surprise is somewhat predictable. But opening new vistas for the future volumes. There are still many threads I could have pulled to point some potential influences of earlier cycles, from Stephen Donaldson’s Thomas Covenant chronicles, which I simply hated!, to Robin Hobb’s Soldier’s son. Since both stories convey the feeling of a magical force at the level of the whole land (or universe), with the unprepared and imperfect “hero” able to impact this land in dramatic ways. And again Elizabeth Moon’s Deeds of Paksenarion for the depiction of mercenary companies…

pictures at an exhibition

Posted in Kids, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , on November 25, 2017 by xi'an

Last weekend we went to a local cultural centre to check on the exhibit of pictures from Madagascar our daughter and her friends had set to a month, following their humanitarian trip there last summer that was supported in part by the town council. While we had already seem these pictures, it was nice to see them in perspective. Hopefully inducing more volunteers to spend time in this particularly poor country, facing a silent humanitarian crisis. Including numerous cases of pneumonic plague… Donations can be made to MadaClinics, the NGO supporting medical rural centres. (USAid also has a program specifically aimed at Madagascar.)

Sequentially Constrained Monte Carlo

Posted in Books, Mountains, pictures, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , on November 7, 2014 by xi'an

This newly arXived paper by S. Golchi and D. Campbell from Vancouver (hence the above picture) considers the (quite) interesting problem of simulating from a target distribution defined by a constraint. This is a question that have bothered me for a long while as I could not come up with a satisfactory solution all those years… Namely, when considering a hard constraint on a density, how can we find a sequence of targets that end up with the restricted density? This is of course connected with the zero measure case posted a few months ago. For instance, how do we efficiently simulate a sample from a Student’s t distribution with a fixed sample mean and a fixed sample variance?

“The key component of SMC is the filtering sequence of distributions through which the particles evolve towards the target distribution.” (p.3)

This is indeed the main issue! The paper considers using a sequence of intermediate targets hardening progressively the constraint(s), along with an SMC sampler, but this recommendation remains rather vague and hence I am at loss as to how to make it work when the exact constraint implies a change of measure. The first example is monotone regression where y has mean f(x) and f is monotone. (Everything is unidimensional here.) The sequence is then defined by adding a multiplicative term that is a function of ∂f/∂x, for instance


with τ growing to infinity to make the constraint moving from soft to hard. An interesting introduction, even though the hard constraint does not imply a change of parameter space or of measure. The second example is about estimating the parameters of an ODE, with the constraint being the ODE being satisfied exactly. Again, not exactly what I was looking for. But with an exotic application to deaths from the 1666 Black (Death) plague.

And then the third example is about ABC and the choice of summary statistics! The sequence of constraints is designed to keep observed and simulated summary statistics close enough when the dimension of those summaries increases, which means they are considered simultaneously rather than jointly. (In the sense of Ratmann et al., 2009. That is, with a multidimensional distance.) The model used for the application of the SMC is the dynamic model of Wood (2010, Nature). The outcome of this specific implementation is not that clear compared with alternatives… And again sadly does not deal with the/my zero measure issue.