How can I make my GBLUP analysis in ASReml-R run faster?

How can I make my GBLUP analysis in ASReml-R run faster?

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Dr. Salvador A. Gezan

11 October 2021

I have been a user of ASReml-R for more than 10 years. I started in the pre-genomics era and I recall fitting an animal model during my PhD with more than half a million records in my pedigree file without any issues. This, back then, took a few minutes, and I was always excited to see a large file with all the breeding value estimates. Nowadays, this takes even less time, given that computers have more memory and computing power.

Now with the genomics era here, I have been moving from this pedigree-based animal model to a genomic-based animal model. The theory is simple: just replace your numerator relationship matrix A with a genomic-based relationship matrix G and you are now doing what is known as GBLUP. So, the process seems simple and straightforward, but it is not!

My first surprise was the level of complexity associated with the generation of the G matrix. First, I have to deal with many tricks on pre-processing my molecular data (often SNPs) in order to calculate my G matrix. But even after I obtain it, I still need to use more tricks (such as blending, or bending) in order to tune-up my G matrix to be invertible and well-conditioned. 

However, the biggest shock comes once I use this ‘tuned-up’ G matrix in my GBLUP analysis using the library ASReml-R v. 4.1. Typically my analyses consider only two to four thousand genotyped individuals (a much smaller matrix than my old pedigree-based A matrix with half a million genotypes). But to my surprise, the analysis often takes hours, or does not work because of insufficient RAM memory. What is going wrong?

In order to understand this, let’s first see why the old A matrix worked so well. ASReml-R (and also ASReml-SA) generates the inverse of the A matrix in sparse form. This means that it is stored (and used) as a half-diagonal matrix, and only the non-zero values are kept and used for calculations. Indeed, ASReml uses sparse matrix methods for most of the calculations. This not only reduces the amount of memory needed for storage but also saves computing time. Interestingly, the A matrix I was fitting in the past was generated from only three generations where many of the individuals are unrelated, and therefore, I had a very empty (or sparse) matrix of additive relationships. This means that even though my matrix was very large, in reality it was full of zeros. I estimate that only 5-10% of the values were non-zero. The limited amount of non-zero data makes the analysis very efficient.

Now with the G matrix, even if only a 2,000 x 2,000 matrix is considered (and stored as half-diagonal), it will be full of non-zeros values (probably all 4 million of them!). And typically, its inverse is also full of non-zero values. This is expected from a genomic matrix as any, and all, genotypes are related to every other genotype (even if only with a very low level of relatedness). As you would expect, this matrix is much denser than my old A matrices, thus its analysis requires a lot more memory and it can’t make use of the sparse matrix methodology within ASReml, leading to the problems I mentioned above.

In addition, if I am using the R environment, then I have extra complications. The library ASReml-R calls the data frame objects (phenotypic and matrices) and generates as output potentially large objects (e.g., solutions). This implies that R needs to keep ALL the pre- and post-analysis objects in memory. As you can imagine this can use all of my laptop’s RAM memory and leaves me with little space for statistical analyses. In contrast, ASReml-SA reads the phenotypic data and generates the design matrices, but it does not keep the original data. ASReml-SA also writes the output into files as they are generated (for example the BLUEs and BLUPs); hence, memory is used in a more efficient way. 

8 tricks to make your GBLUP analyses run quicker

Not all is lost! There are several tricks to fit these models and get your results. Below I am going to list (and explain) some of the options that I have used/discovered to make my GBLUP analyses run with good success. This is not an exhaustive list of tricks, but hopefully they will give you a starting, and ideally finishing, point.

1) Use alternative software

This is a reasonable option, and there are several software packages (and R libraries) that will likely handle specific analyses more efficiently. However, you have to be sure your complex linear mixed models are considered. For example, some routines do not allow for several fixed or random effects, or they are limited in the error structure specification (e.g., it may not be possible to fit a heterogeneous or bivariate error). In my case, this is rarely a viable option as the type of data that I normally work with requires advanced linear mixed modelling.

2) Move away from GBLUP

If your objective is to fit genomic prediction models, then GBLUP is one of many good options. Alternatively, you may be able to use a Bayesian approach (e.g., Bayes B) or a multiple regression algorithm by fitting ridge-regression or LASSO models. In all of these cases, you will have to rely on a different set of statistical assumptions. This option has worked for me, but on a limited based, as it is only possible with relatively simple models.

3) Move away from the R environment

You can take advantage of the power and flexibility of ASReml within the stand-alone application, ASReml-SA. This executable software is more efficient, as indicated above, in terms of memory and size of the problem. There are some differences in notation and coding compared to ASReml-R but, as expected, the logic is very similar. I have used this strategy before with good success, and you might also notice that the latest ASReml-SA version 4.2 has several enhancements over the older 4.1 version. 

4) Make R more efficient

Personally, I like the flexibility and control that the R environment provides, so much so that often I do not want to move away from R. But I have discovered some tricks that help me. Most of these rely on removing objects from memory that are no longer needed. For example, the G matrix is not required once you obtain the G inverse with the ASReml-R command ainverse(). Also, any intermediate matrix, or data frame can be eliminated. In addition, manipulations of large datasets can be more easily and efficiently done with designed for purpose libraries such as data.table. However, over the last few years newer versions of R have improved memory management, and I suspect this will continue as large datasets become the norm.

5) Move to Cloud Computing

On a few occasions I have had analyses that are still too large for my computer, or that I need to complete quickly due to a tight deadline. Here, I have used cloud computing through AWS (but Microsoft Azure is another option). It is possible to install RStudio and ASReml-R on almost unthinkable machine configurations. If you have the budget for these services this is a good option. However, some effort is needed to set up these systems. Check this link for some good suggestion on how this can be minimized

6) Use some ASReml-R tricks

ASReml-R (and also ASReml-SA) has several options that are useful when fitting any linear mixed model. To speed up convergency, probably  most important is to provide some good initial variance components - ones that will be  close to the final estimated values. This has been especially useful when comparing several models. Additionally, you can also move some of your fixed effects to the sparse portion (by using sparse), which will reduce the computing load. Finally, if your model is too complex (say MET with several spatial components), then a good alternative is to use a two-stage analyses where in the first step you fit each environment separately, and in the second step the predictions for each environment (and weights) are used for the GBLUP analyses. This procedure might have some loss of information, but the procedure is well established and it is more likely to converge!

7) Use a portion of the matrix G in your analysis

When fitting the linear mixed model, the only genotypes that contribute to estimating the variance components or effects are those that have phenotypic responses. This implies that trimming down your G matrix to only those genotypes that have records in your phenotypic data will potentially reduce the size of the G matrix considerably. This has been my approach, particularly in cases where there is lots of historical genotyping that is not relevant for the given analysis of interest.

8) Use conditional predictions with a portion of the matrix G

This has been my main ‘statistical’ strategy when I’ve only used the portion of the G matrix that has phenotypic observations to fit the linear mixed model (as discussed above) but I still need genomic predictions for the other genotypes. Here, after your model is fitted you use the estimated genomic breeding values (GEBVs) together with the full G matrix to obtain what is called conditional predictions. More details are provided under the heading Conditional Prediction at the end of this blog.  This is also a useful strategy any time you need predictions for future genotyped individuals as it does not require refitting the original genomic prediction model.  

As you can see, there are several options to speed-up your analysis, but the “best” strategy will depend on the type of problem. Often, I have dealt with a small number of individuals with both genotypes and phenotypes, so using a portion of the G matrix has been a good trick; however, I expect that in the next few years the size of my G matrix will grow considerably.

Nevertheless, there is progress in other areas too. Current developments within VSNi in relation to the core ASReml algorithms (the computational engine underlying the ASReml family of products, including ASReml-R) are focused on making this type of ‘dense’ model much easier and faster to fit. Some of the current work includes: 

  • Improving memory management of large matrices.
  • Implementing alternative algorithms for:
    • re-ordering of the mixed model equations (reducing fill-in, and thus efforts to obtain matrix inverses).
    • several matrix operations (such as, algorithms for inverting some specific classes of matrices).
  • Increasing the use of parallelization on critical routines (using more cores will speed up the process).

Some of these features are already in the latest ASReml-SA version 4.2, but in the next few versions of ASReml-R I expect to see these and many more relevant computational improvements. In the near future, I am hoping to perform my GBLUP analyses with tens of thousands of individuals without any memory problem and at a reasonable speed. And, in the case of the R environment, I am also expecting progress in those aspects too.

The last thought from me is related to future scientific research and development. There is need to perform additional statistical, numerical or even computational research in the area of GBLUP. I am sure, there will be good ‘sparse’ approximation algorithms to be used in place of the G matrix, or some clever matrix algebra that will produce better manipulations of our mixed model equations. We should all keep an eye out for new developments to see what is available and what is new to make these analyses more operationally manageable.

Conditional Prediction

Let’s consider a matrix that is partitioned in the following way:

Here, the (a matrix of dimension x ) corresponds to the portion of the genomic matrix for those individuals (group 1) for which we are interested in estimating GEBVs. Similarly, (a matrix of dimension x ) contains the portion of the genomic matrix with those individuals (group 2) for which we already have GEBVs (these estimates are found in , a vector of length ). They were obtained from fitting a GBLUP for individuals with phenotypic records, but this can also be from any set of individuals with both genomic information and estimated GEBVs.

To obtain the ‘conditional’ estimates of the GEBVs for the individuals in group 1, which we will identify as the vector of length , we use the following expression of conditional prediction based on a multivariate normal distribution: 

This expression requires the inverse of . Note, that in strict statistical rigor this estimation should be identified as |, corresponding to the estimation of given (or conditional on)

If the variance-covariance matrix of the estimations is available, i.e. , then it is possible to estimate the variance covariance of using the expression:

This can be used to calculate prediction error variances (PEVs) or accuracies.

About the Author

Salvador Gezan is a statistician/quantitative geneticist with more than 20 years’ experience in breeding, statistical analysis and genetic improvement consulting. He currently works as a Statistical Consultant at VSN International, UK. Dr. Gezan started his career at Rothamsted Research as a biometrician, where he worked with Genstat and ASReml statistical software. Over the last 15 years he has taught ASReml workshops for companies and university researchers around the world. 

Dr. Gezan has worked on agronomy, aquaculture, forestry, entomology, medical, biological modelling, and with many commercial breeding programs, applying traditional and molecular statistical tools. His research has led to more than 100 peer reviewed publications, and he is one of the co-authors of the textbook “Statistical Methods in Biology: Design and Analysis of Experiments and Regression”.

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The VSNi Team

04 May 2021

What is a p-value?

A way to decide whether to reject the null hypothesis (H0) against our alternative hypothesis (H1) is to determine the probability of obtaining a test statistic at least as extreme as the one observed under the assumption that H0 is true. This probability is referred to as the “p-value”. It plays an important role in statistics and is critical in most biological research.

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What is the true meaning of a p-value and how should it be used?

P-values are a continuum (between 0 and 1) that provide a measure of the strength of evidence against H0. For example, a value of 0.066, will indicate that there is a probability that we could observe values as large or larger than our critical value with a probability of 6.6%. Note that this p-value is NOT the probability that our alternative hypothesis is correct, it is only a measure of how likely or unlikely we are to observe these extreme events, under repeated sampling, in reference to our calculated value. Also note that this p-value is obtained based on an assumed distribution (e.g., t-distribution for a t-test); hence, p-value will depend strongly on your (correct or incorrect) assumptions.

The smaller the p-value, the stronger the evidence for rejecting H0. However, it is difficult to determine what a small value really is. This leads to the typical guidelines of: p < 0.001 indicating very strong evidence against H0, p < 0.01 strong evidence, p < 0.05 moderate evidence, p < 0.1 weak evidence or a trend, and p ≥ 0.1 indicating insufficient evidence [1], and a strong debate on what this threshold should be. But declaring p-values as being either significant or non-significant based on an arbitrary cut-off (e.g. 0.05 or 5%) should be avoided. As Ronald Fisher said:

“No scientific worker has a fixed level of significance at which, from year to year, and in all circumstances he rejects hypotheses; he rather gives his mind to each particular case in the light of his evidence and his ideas” [2].

A very important aspect of the p-value is that it does not provide any evidence in support of H0 – it only quantifies evidence against H0. That is, a large p-value does not mean we can accept H0. Take care not to fall into the trap of accepting H0! Similarly, a small p-value tells you that rejecting H0 is plausible, and not that H1 is correct!

For useful conclusions to be drawn from a statistical analysis, p-values should be considered alongside the size of the effect. Confidence intervals are commonly used to describe the size of the effect and the precision of its estimate. Crucially, statistical significance does not necessarily imply practical (or biological) significance. Small p-values can come from a large sample and a small effect, or a small sample and a large effect.

It is also important to understand that the size of a p-value depends critically on the sample size (as this affects the shape of our distribution). Here, with a very very large sample size, H0 may be always rejected even with extremely small differences, even if H0 is nearly (i.e., approximately) true. Conversely, with very small sample size, it may be nearly impossible to reject H0 even if we observed extremely large differences. Hence, p-values need to also be interpreted in relation to the size of the study.


[1] Ganesh H. and V. Cave. 2018. P-values, P-values everywhere! New Zealand Veterinary Journal. 66(2): 55-56.

[2] Fisher RA. 1956. Statistical Methods and Scientific Inferences. Oliver and Boyd, Edinburgh, UK.

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Dr. Vanessa Cave

10 May 2022

The essential role of statistical thinking in animal ethics: dealing with reduction

Having spent over 15 years working as an applied statistician in the biosciences, I’ve come across my fair-share of animal studies. And one of my greatest bugbears is that the full value is rarely extracted from the experimental data collected. This could be because the best statistical approaches haven’t been employed to analyse the data, the findings are selectively or incorrectly reported, other research programmes that could benefit from the data don’t have access to it, or the data aren’t re-analysed following the advent of new statistical methods or tools that have the potential to draw greater insights from it.

An enormous number of scientific research studies involve animals, and with this come many ethical issues and concerns. To help ensure high standards of animal welfare in scientific research, many governments, universities, R&D companies, and individual scientists have adopted the principles of the 3Rs: Replacement, Reduction and Refinement. Indeed, in many countries the tenets of the 3Rs are enshrined in legislation and regulations around the use of animals in scientific research.


Use methods or technologies that replace or avoid the use of animals.


Limit the number of animals used.


Refine methods in order to minimise or eliminate negative animal welfare impacts.

In this blog, I’ll focus on the second principle, Reduction, and argue that statistical expertise is absolutely crucial for achieving reduction.

The aim of reduction is to minimise the number of animals used in scientific research whilst balancing against any additional adverse animal welfare impacts and without compromising the scientific value of the research. This principle demands that before carrying out an experiment (or survey) involving animals, the researchers must consider and implement approaches that both:

  1. Minimise their current animal use – the researchers must consider how to minimise the number of animals in their experiment whilst ensuring sufficient data are obtained to answer their research questions, and
  2. Minimise future animal use – the researchers need to consider how to maximise the information obtained from their experiment in order to potentially limit, or avoid, the subsequent use of additional animals in future research.

Both these considerations involve statistical thinking. Let’s begin by exploring the important role statistics plays in minimising current animal use.

Statistical aspects to minimise current animal use

Reduction requires that any experiment (or survey) carried out must use as few animals as possible. However, with too few animals the study will lack the statistical power to draw meaningful conclusions, ultimately wasting animals. But how do we determine how many animals are needed for a sufficiently powered experiment? The necessary starting point is to establish clearly defined, specific research questions. These can then be formulated into appropriate statistical hypotheses, for which an experiment (or survey) can be designed. 

Statistical expertise in experimental design plays a pivotal role in ensuring enough of the right type of data are collected to answer the research questions as objectively and as efficiently as possible. For example, sophisticated experimental designs involving blocking can be used to reduce random variation, making the experiment more efficient (i.e., increase the statistical power with fewer animals) as well as guarding against bias. Once a suitable experimental design has been decided upon, a power analysis can be used to calculate the required number of animals (i.e., determine the sample size). Indeed, a power analysis is typically needed to obtain animal ethics approval - a formal process in which the benefits of the proposed research is weighed up against the likely harm to the animals. 

Researchers also need to investigate whether pre-existing sources of information or data could be integrated into their study, enabling them to reduce the number of animals required. For example, by means of a meta-analysis. At the extreme end, data relevant to the research questions may already be available, eradicating the need for an experiment altogether! 

Statistical aspects to minimise future animal use: doing it right the first time

An obvious mechanism for minimising future animal use is to ensure we do it right the first time, avoiding the need for additional experiments. This is easier said than done; there are many statistical and practical considerations at work here. The following paragraphs cover four important steps in experimental research in which statistical expertise plays a major role: data acquisition, data management, data analysis and inference.

Above, I alluded to the validity of the experimental design. If the design is flawed, the data collected will be compromised, if not essentially worthless. Two common mistakes to avoid are pseudo-replication and the lack of (or poor) randomisation. Replication and randomisation are two of the basic principles of good experimental design. Confusing pseudo-replication (either at the design or analysis stage) for genuine replication will lead to invalid statistical inferences. Randomisation is necessary to ensure the statistical inference is valid and for guarding against bias. 

Another extremely important consideration when designing an experiment, and setting the sample size, is the risk and impact of missing data due, for example, to animal drop-out or equipment failure. Missing data results in a loss of statistical power, complicates the statistical analysis, and has the potential to cause substantial bias (and potentially invalidate any conclusions). Careful planning and management of an experiment will help minimise the amount of missing data. In addition, safe-guards, controls or contingencies could be built into the experimental design that help mitigate against the impact of missing data. If missing data does result, appropriate statistical methods to account for it must be applied. Failure to do so could invalidate the entire study.

It is also important that the right data are collected to answer the research questions of interest. That is, the right response and explanatory variables measured at the appropriate scale and frequency. There are many statistical related-questions the researchers must answer, including: what population do they want to make inference about? how generalisable do they need their findings to be? what controllable and uncontrollable variables are there? Answers to these questions not only affects enrolment of animals into the study, but also the conditions they are subjected to and the data that should be collected. 

It is essential that the data from the experiment (including meta-data) is appropriately managed and stored to protect its integrity and ensure its usability. If the data get messed up (e.g., if different variables measured on the same animal cannot be linked), is undecipherable (e.g., if the attributes of the variables are unknown) or is incomplete (e.g., if the observations aren’t linked to the structural variables associated with the experimental design), the data are likely worthless. Statisticians can offer invaluable expertise in good data management practices, helping to ensure the data are accurately recorded, the downstream results from analysing the data are reproducible and the data itself is reusable at a later date, by possibly a different group of researchers.

Unsurprisingly, it is also vitally important that the data are analysed correctly, using the methods that draw the most value from it. As expected, statistical expertise plays a huge role here! The results and inference are meaningful only if appropriate statistical methods are used. Moreover, often there is a choice of valid statistical approaches; however, some approaches will be more powerful or more precise than others. 

Having analysed the data, it is important that the inference (or conclusions) drawn are sound. Again, statistical thinking is crucial here. For example, in my experience, one all too common mistake in animal studies is to accept the null hypothesis and erroneously claim that a non-significant result means there is no difference (say, between treatment means). 

Statistical aspects to minimise future animal use: sharing the value from the experiment

The other important mechanism for minimising future animal use is to share the knowledge and information gleaned. The most basic step here is to ensure that all the results are correctly and non-selectively reported. Reporting all aspects of the trial, including the experimental design and statistical analysis, accurately and completely is crucial for the wider interpretation of the findings, reproducibility and repeatability of the research, and for scientific scrutiny. In addition, all results, including null results, are valuable and should be shared. 

Sharing the data (or resources, e.g., animal tissues) also contributes to reduction. The data may be able to be re-used for a different purpose, integrated with other sources of data to provide new insights, or re-analysed in the future using a more advanced statistical technique, or for a different hypothesis. 

Statistical aspects to minimise future animal use: maximising the information obtained from the experiment

Another avenue that should also be explored is whether additional data or information can be obtained from the experiment, without incurring any further adverse animal welfare impacts, that could benefit other researchers and/or future studies. For example, to help address a different research question now or in the future. At the outset of the study, researchers must consider whether their proposed study could be combined with another one, whether the research animals could be shared with another experiment (e.g., animals euthanized for one experiment may provide suitable tissue for use in another), what additional data could be collected that may (or is!) of future use, etc. 

Statistical thinking clearly plays a fundamental role in reducing the number of animals used in scientific research, and in ensuring the most value is drawn from the resulting data. I strongly believe that statistical expertise must be fully utilised through the duration of the project, from design through to analysis and dissemination of results, in all research projects involving animals to achieving reduction. In my experience, most researchers strive for very high standards of animal ethics, and absolutely do not want to cause unnecessary harm to animals. Unfortunately, the role statistical expertise plays here is not always appreciated or taken advantage of. So next time you’re thinking of undertaking research involving animals, ensure you have expert statistical input!

About the author

Dr. Vanessa Cave is an applied statistician interested in the application of statistics to the biosciences, in particular agriculture and ecology, and is a developer of the Genstat statistical software package. She has over 15 years of experience collaborating with scientists, using statistics to solve real-world problems.  Vanessa provides expertise on experiment and survey design, data collection and management, statistical analysis, and the interpretation of statistical findings. Her interests include statistical consultancy, mixed models, multivariate methods, statistical ecology, statistical graphics and data visualisation, and the statistical challenges related to digital agriculture.

Vanessa is currently President of the Australasian Region of the International Biometric Society, past-President of the New Zealand Statistical Association, an Associate Editor for the Agronomy Journal, on the Editorial Board of The New Zealand Veterinary Journal and an honorary academic at the University of Auckland. She has a PhD in statistics from the University of St Andrew.

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Kanchana Punyawaew and Dr. Vanessa Cave

01 March 2021

Mixed models for repeated measures and longitudinal data

The term "repeated measures" refers to experimental designs or observational studies in which each experimental unit (or subject) is measured repeatedly over time or space. "Longitudinal data" is a special case of repeated measures in which variables are measured over time (often for a comparatively long period of time) and duration itself is typically a variable of interest.

In terms of data analysis, it doesn’t really matter what type of data you have, as you can analyze both using mixed models. Remember, the key feature of both types of data is that the response variable is measured more than once on each experimental unit, and these repeated measurements are likely to be correlated.

Mixed Model Approaches

To illustrate the use of mixed model approaches for analyzing repeated measures, we’ll examine a data set from Landau and Everitt’s 2004 book, “A Handbook of Statistical Analyses using SPSS”. Here, a double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial was conducted to determine whether an estrogen treatment reduces post-natal depression. Sixty three subjects were randomly assigned to one of two treatment groups: placebo (27 subjects) and estrogen treatment (36 subjects). Depression scores were measured on each subject at baseline, i.e. before randomization (predep) and at six two-monthly visits after randomization (postdep at visits 1-6). However, not all the women in the trial had their depression score recorded on all scheduled visits.

In this example, the data were measured at fixed, equally spaced, time points. (Visit is time as a factor and nVisit is time as a continuous variable.) There is one between-subject factor (Group, i.e. the treatment group, either placebo or estrogen treatment), one within-subject factor (Visit or nVisit) and a covariate (predep).

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Using the following plots, we can explore the data. In the first plot below, the depression scores for each subject are plotted against time, including the baseline, separately for each treatment group.

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In the second plot, the mean depression score for each treatment group is plotted over time. From these plots, we can see variation among subjects within each treatment group that depression scores for subjects generally decrease with time, and on average the depression score at each visit is lower with the estrogen treatment than the placebo.

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Random effects model

The simplest approach for analyzing repeated measures data is to use a random effects model with subject fitted as random. It assumes a constant correlation between all observations on the same subject. The analysis objectives can either be to measure the average treatment effect over time or to assess treatment effects at each time point and to test whether treatment interacts with time.

In this example, the treatment (Group), time (Visit), treatment by time interaction (Group:Visit) and baseline (predep) effects can all be fitted as fixed. The subject effects are fitted as random, allowing for constant correlation between depression scores taken on the same subject over time.

The code and output from fitting this model in ASReml-R 4 follows;

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The output from summary() shows that the estimate of subject and residual variance from the model are 15.10 and 11.53, respectively, giving a total variance of 15.10 + 11.53 = 26.63. The Wald test (from the wald.asreml() table) for predep, Group and Visit are significant (probability level (Pr) ≤ 0.01). There appears to be no relationship between treatment group and time (Group:Visit) i.e. the probability level is greater than 0.05 (Pr = 0.8636).

Covariance model

In practice, often the correlation between observations on the same subject is not constant. It is common to expect that the covariances of measurements made closer together in time are more similar than those at more distant times. Mixed models can accommodate many different covariance patterns. The ideal usage is to select the pattern that best reflects the true covariance structure of the data. A typical strategy is to start with a simple pattern, such as compound symmetry or first-order autoregressive, and test if a more complex pattern leads to a significant improvement in the likelihood.

Note: using a covariance model with a simple correlation structure (i.e. uniform) will provide the same results as fitting a random effects model with random subject.

In ASReml-R 4 we use the corv() function on time (i.e. Visit) to specify uniform correlation between depression scores taken on the same subject over time.

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Here, the estimate of the correlation among times (Visit) is 0.57 and the estimate of the residual variance is 26.63 (identical to the total variance of the random effects model, asr1).

Specifying a heterogeneous first-order autoregressive covariance structure is easily done in ASReml-R 4 by changing the variance-covariance function in the residual term from corv() to ar1h().

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Random coefficients model

When the relationship of a measurement with time is of interest, a random coefficients model is often appropriate. In a random coefficients model, time is considered a continuous variable, and the subject and subject by time interaction (Subject:nVisit) are fitted as random effects. This allows the slopes and intercepts to vary randomly between subjects, resulting in a separate regression line to be fitted for each subject. However, importantly, the slopes and intercepts are correlated.

The str() function of asreml() call is used for fitting a random coefficient model;

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The summary table contains the variance parameter for Subject (the set of intercepts, 23.24) and Subject:nVisit (the set of slopes, 0.89), the estimate of correlation between the slopes and intercepts (-0.57) and the estimate of residual variance (8.38).


Brady T. West, Kathleen B. Welch and Andrzej T. Galecki (2007). Linear Mixed Models: A Practical Guide Using Statistical Software. Chapman & Hall/CRC, Taylor & Francis Group, LLC.

Brown, H. and R. Prescott (2015). Applied Mixed Models in Medicine. Third Edition. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, England.

Sabine Landau and Brian S. Everitt (2004). A Handbook of Statistical Analyses using SPSS. Chapman & Hall/CRC Press LLC.