Random Forests for dependent data

Arkajyoti Saha, Sumanta Basu, Abhirup Datta

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Random forest (RF) is one of the most popular methods for estimating regression functions. The local nature of the RF algorithm, creating decision trees based on intra-node means and variances, is ideal when errors are i.i.d. For dependent error processes like time series and spatial settings where data in all the nodes will be correlated, operating locally ignores this dependence. Also, creating an ensemble of trees in RF will lead to resampling of correlated data, violating the principles of bootstrap. Naive application of RF to dependent settings, while prevalent, ignores these issues and is in sharp contrast to the practice in spatial and time series modeling where the correlation structure is explicitly incorporated in the estimation procedure. Theoretically, consistency of RF has been established for i.i.d. errors, but little is known about the case of dependent error processes. We propose RF-GLS, a novel extension of RF for dependent error processes in the same way Generalized Least Squares (GLS) fundamentally extends Ordinary Least Squares (OLS) for linear models under dependence. The key to this extension is the equivalent representation of the local decision making in a regression tree as a global OLS optimization which is then replaced with a GLS loss to create a GLS-style regression tree. This also synergistically addresses the resampling issue, as the use of GLS loss amounts to resampling uncorrelated contrasts (pre-whitened data) instead of the correlated data. For spatial settings, RF-GLS can be used in conjunction with Gaussian Process correlated errors to generate kriging predictions at new locations. RF becomes a special case of RF-GLS with an identity working covariance matrix. We establish L2 consistency of RF-GLS under β- (absolutely regular) mixing error processes and show that this general result subsumes important cases like autoregressive time series and spatial Matérn Gaussian Processes. As a byproduct, we also establish consistency of RF for β-mixing processes, which to our knowledge, is the first such result for RF under dependence. The proofs involve new techniques to account for the data-weighting introduced by use of the global GLS loss. A number of general tools are introduced that are of independent interest, including

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalUnknown Journal
StatePublished - Jul 30 2020


  • Gaussian Processes
  • Generalized least-squares
  • Random forest
  • Spatial
  • Time series

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General

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