Distributional Random Forest (DRF) is a flexible forest-based method to estimate the full conditional distribution of a multivariate output of interest given input variables. In this article, we introduce a variable importance algorithm for DRFs, based on the well-established drop and relearn principle and MMD distance. While traditional importance measures only detect variables with an influence on the output mean, our algorithm detects variables impacting the output distribution more generally. We show that the introduced importance measure is consistent, exhibits high empirical performance on both real and simulated data, and outperforms competitors. In particular, our algorithm is highly efficient to select variables through recursive feature elimination, and can therefore provide small sets of variables to build accurate estimates of conditional output distributions.
The Distributional Random Forest (DRF) is a recently introduced Random Forest algorithm to estimate multivariate conditional distributions. Due to its general estimation procedure, it can be employed to estimate a wide range of targets such as conditional average treatment effects, conditional quantiles, and conditional correlations. However, only results about the consistency and convergence rate of the DRF prediction are available so far. We characterize the asymptotic distribution of DRF and develop a bootstrap approximation of it. This allows us to derive inferential tools for quantifying standard errors and the construction of confidence regions that have asymptotic coverage guarantees. In simulation studies, we empirically validate the developed theory for inference of low-dimensional targets and for testing distributional differences between two populations.