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# Solution of 8.23.2, Body mass of mammals --- Smith et al. 2003
> Smith et al. (2003) compiled a database of the body mass of mammals of the late Quaternary. Your goal is to calculate the average body mass of the species in each Family.
> 1. Write a script (`read_mass.R`) that reads and cleans the data.
First of all, we need to read the data into a `data.frame`. There is no header, the columns are separated by Tabs, and we want to include `stringsAsFactors = FALSE` to make sure species names are not turned into factors (categorical values, very useful for linear regressions, but not for our purposes).
s2003 <- read.table("../data/Smith2003_data.txt", sep = "\t",
stringsAsFactors = FALSE)
# Check the size
# Show the first few lines
Now we want to put `NA` instead of `-999` for signaling missing data (always use `NA`, as R can then understand these are special values).
s2003[s2003 == -999] <- NA
# see that R treats NAs separately
summary(s2003[, 7])
Finally, let's choose some descriptive headers to make it simpler to reference to specific columns.
colnames(s2003) <- c("Continent", "Status",
"Order", "Family", "Genus",
"Species", "LogMass",
"CombinedMass", "Reference")
See the file `read_mass.R` for the complete script.
> 2. Write another script (`body_mass_family.R`), which calls `read_mass.R`, and then calculates the average body mass per Family.
There are many different strategies to accomplish this. Here we explore a possible solution, and in the next section a different one.
Each species belongs to one family; if we were to sum all the body masses for the species belonging to a certain family, and then divide by the number of species in that family, we would obtain the desired result. To implement this, we could:
* cycle through the data
* if data on family and body mass of the species are present:
+ add the family in case it hasn't been found before
+ update the total body mass for the family
+ update the number of species for the family
In practice, one would write code such as:
# Empty dataframe with three columns
families_mass <- data.frame(Family = character(0),
AvgMass = numeric(0),
NumSpecies = numeric(0))
for (sp in 1:dim(s2003)[1]){
# Extract family and mass
my_fam <- s2003[sp,]$Family
my_mass <- exp(s2003[sp, ]$LogMass)
# If both are available
if (( == FALSE) & ( == FALSE)) {
# Check whether the family is already in the data.frame
# if so, return the index
fam_num <- which(families_mass$Family == my_fam)
# The function which returns integer(0) if no match is found
# We can test wheter a match was found by checking the length of
# fam_num
if (length(fam_num) == 1) {
# Add the mass
families_mass[fam_num, "AvgMass"] <- families_mass[fam_num, "AvgMass"] + my_mass
# Add to number of species
families_mass[fam_num, "NumSpecies"] <- families_mass[fam_num, "NumSpecies"] + 1
} else {
# Add the family to the data.frame
families_mass <- rbind(families_mass,
data.frame(Family = my_fam,
AvgMass = my_mass,
NumSpecies = 1))
# Now divide AvgMass by NumSpecies
families_mass$AvgMass <- families_mass$AvgMass / families_mass$NumSpecies
# And reorder the data for readability
# Because R turned families names into "factors" (a common problem), we need
# to transform them back into characters before sorting...
families_mass$Family <- as.character(families_mass$Family)
families_mass <- families_mass[order(families_mass$Family), ]
# See the first few records
The complete script is available as `body_mass_family`.
> 3. Measure the time it takes to run the analysis, using the command `system.time(source("body_mass_family.R"))`
Fairly straightforward:
> 4. There are many ways to accomplish the task. Write the analysis using a different method, make sure it returns the same results, and time the alternative solution. Which one is more readable? Which one is faster?
A possible alternative way of performing the same task would be to:
* Take the unique families in the database
* For each family, subset the data
* Compute the average body mass
An implementation of this algorithm would look like:
# Get unique families, removing NAs
fam_unique <- sort(unique(s2003$Family[$Family) == FALSE]))
# Empty data frame
families_mass <- data.frame()
# Cycle through families
for (fam in fam_unique) {
# Get body masses
fam_logmass <- s2003[(s2003$Family == fam) &
($LogMass) == FALSE) &
($Family) == FALSE),
# Add to the data.frame if there are masses
families_mass <- rbind(families_mass,
data.frame(Family = fam,
AvgMass = mean(exp(fam_logmass)),
NumSpecies = length(fam_logmass)))
# See the results
This script (saved in `body_mass_family_subset.R`) is much faster:
We have seen that there are multiple ways to solve a problem. Each come with its own speed of execution, readability, and complexity. In science, we want to strike a balance between simplicity and readability on the one side, and efficiency and speed on the other.
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