Multifractals in ecology using R - Day 3

Posgraduate course, University of Maringá, 2013


  • Many natural systems cannot be characterized by a single number such as the fractal dimension. Instead an infinite spectrum of dimensions must be introduced.


Multifractal definition

  • Consider a given object $\Omega$, its multifractal nature is practically determined by covering the system with a set of boxes ${B_i(r)}$ with $(i=1,…, N(r))$ of side lenght $r$

  • These boxes are nonoverlaping and such that

    This is the box-counting method but now a measure $\mu(B_n)$ for each box is computed. This measure corresponds to the total population or biomass contained in $B_n$, in general will scale as:

Box counting


The generalized dimensions

  • The fractal dimension $D$ already defined is actually one of an infinite spectrum of so-called correlation dimension of order $q$ or also called Renyi entropies.

    where $p_i=\mu(B_i)$ and a normalization is assumed:

  • For $q=0$ we have the familiar definition of fractal dimension. To see this we replace $q=0$

Generalized dimensions 1

  • It can be shown that the inequality $D_q’ \leq D_q$ holds for $q’ \geq q$

  • The sum

    is the so-called moment or partition function of order $q$.

  • Varying q allows to measure the non-homogeneity of the pattern. The moments with larger $q$ will be dominated by the densest boxes. For $q<0$ will come from small $p_i$’s.

  • Alternatively we can think that for $q>0$, $D_q$ reflects the scaling of the large fluctuations and strong singularities. In contrast, for $q<0$, $D_q$ reflects the scaling of the small fluctuations and weak singularities.


  • Calculate the partition function for the center and lower images of the figure:


Two important dimensions

  • Two particular cases are $q=1$ and $q=2$. The dimension for $q=1$ is the Shannon entropy or also called by ecologist the Shannon’s index of diversity.

    and the second is the so-called correlation dimension:

    the numerator is the log of the Simpson index.


  • Salinity stress in the cladoceran Daphniopsis Australis. Behavioral experiments were conducted on individual males, and their successive displacements analyzed using the generalized dimension function $D_q$ and the mass exponent function $\tau_q$


    both functions indicate that the successive displacements of male D. australis have weaker multifractal properties. This is consistent with and generalizes previous results showing a decrease in the complexity of behavioral sequences under stressful conditions for a range of organisms.

  • A shift between multifractal and fractal properties or a change in multifractal properties, in animal behavior is then suggested as a potential diagnostic tool to assess animal stress levels and health.

Mass exponent and Hurst exponent

  • The same information contained in the generalized dimensions can be expressed using mass exponents:

    This is the scaling of the partition function. For monofractals $\tau_q$ is linear and related to the Hurst exponent:

    For multifractals we have

    Note that for $q=0$, $D_q = \tau_q$ and for $q=1$, $\tau_q=0$


  1. Kellner JR, Asner GP (2009) Convergent structural responses of tropical forests to diverse disturbance regimes. Ecology Letters 12: 887–897. doi:10.1111/j.1461-0248.2009.01345.x.