Comparison of discriminant function and classification tree analyses for age classification of marmots

We evaluated the predictive power of two classification techniques, one parametric - discriminant function analysis (DFA) and the other non?parametric - classification and regression tree analysis (CART), in order to provide a non?subjective quantitative method of determining age class in Vancouver Island marmots (Marmota vancouverensis) and hoary marmots (Marmota caligata). For both techniques we used morphological measurements of known?age male and female marmots from two independent population studies to build and test predictive models of age class. Both techniques had high predictive power (69-86%) for both sexes and both species. Overall, the two methods performed identically with 81% correct classification. DFA was marginally better at discriminating among older more challenging age classes compared to CART. However, in our test samples, cases with missing values in any of the discriminant variables were deleted and hence unclassified by DFA, whereas CART used values from closely correlated variables to substitute for the missing values. Therefore, overall, CART performed better (CART 81% vs DFA 76%) because of its ability to classify incomplete cases. Correct classification rates were approximately 10% higher for hoary marmots than for Vancouver Island marmots, a result that could be attributed to different sets of morphological measurements. Zygomatic arch breadth measured in hoary marmots was the most important predictor of age class in both sexes using both classification techniques. We recommend that CART analysis be performed on data?sets with incomplete records and used as a variable screening tool prior to DFA on more complete data?sets.