Repeatability for Gaussian and non-Gaussian data: a practical guide for biologists

Biol Rev Camb Philos Soc. 2010 Nov;85(4):935-56. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-185X.2010.00141.x.


Repeatability (more precisely the common measure of repeatability, the intra-class correlation coefficient, ICC) is an important index for quantifying the accuracy of measurements and the constancy of phenotypes. It is the proportion of phenotypic variation that can be attributed to between-subject (or between-group) variation. As a consequence, the non-repeatable fraction of phenotypic variation is the sum of measurement error and phenotypic flexibility. There are several ways to estimate repeatability for Gaussian data, but there are no formal agreements on how repeatability should be calculated for non-Gaussian data (e.g. binary, proportion and count data). In addition to point estimates, appropriate uncertainty estimates (standard errors and confidence intervals) and statistical significance for repeatability estimates are required regardless of the types of data. We review the methods for calculating repeatability and the associated statistics for Gaussian and non-Gaussian data. For Gaussian data, we present three common approaches for estimating repeatability: correlation-based, analysis of variance (ANOVA)-based and linear mixed-effects model (LMM)-based methods, while for non-Gaussian data, we focus on generalised linear mixed-effects models (GLMM) that allow the estimation of repeatability on the original and on the underlying latent scale. We also address a number of methods for calculating standard errors, confidence intervals and statistical significance; the most accurate and recommended methods are parametric bootstrapping, randomisation tests and Bayesian approaches. We advocate the use of LMM- and GLMM-based approaches mainly because of the ease with which confounding variables can be controlled for. Furthermore, we compare two types of repeatability (ordinary repeatability and extrapolated repeatability) in relation to narrow-sense heritability. This review serves as a collection of guidelines and recommendations for biologists to calculate repeatability and heritability from both Gaussian and non-Gaussian data.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Confidence Intervals
  • Least-Squares Analysis
  • Linear Models
  • Normal Distribution
  • Phenotype
  • Regression Analysis
  • Reproducibility of Results*
  • Statistics as Topic*