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From sea snails to right whales: a walk on the wild side of statistics

University of Auckland, Engineering
Publication date:
30 Nov 2020, 06:00 PM - 30 Nov 2020, 07:00 PM
University of Auckland, Engineering lecture theatre 401
Professor Rachel Fewster
Link to Event:

Statistics is all about making sense of data. The ecological sciences are a statistician’s paradise, continually generating new types of data that need to be made sense of, due to a surge in innovative technologies for studying the populations and behaviour of wild animals.

Imagine if kiwi populations could be monitored simply by leaving microphone recorders in the forest for weeks, taking them back to base … and then what? Or if a few samples of DNA could reveal the launch pads of swimming rats invading sanctuary islands; or if whales could be monitored using photos from satellites? What has counting whales got to do with road traffic modelling? And how can New Zealand’s team of five million contribute to conservation analytics? Professor Fewster will give a taste of the diversity of statistical problems in the ecological domain, introduce a charismatic cast of creatures, and give insights into how we can – sometimes – convert baffling volumes of data into interpretable conclusions.

Rachel Fewster started life as a nature-mad youngster. After studying mathematics at Cambridge, she returned to nature with a PhD in statistical ecology at St Andrews. She moved to New Zealand for a two-year postdoc in 1999, and is somehow still here. She works in all aspects of ecological statistics, from applied to mathematical, and runs the citizen science project CatchIT involving several thousand members of the NZ public. She is also an enthusiastic educator, and won a national teaching excellence award in 2009.