Challenges from Biology to Statistics

Mary Woodcock Kroble
Friday 10 June 2011
Date: 23 September 2011
Time: 1:00 pm - 2:00 pm

Speaker: Prof Les Underhill (University of Cape Town)


I got my PhD in “Mathematical Statistics” in 1973, solving a problem in abstract multivariate analysis that no one has ever had. This is a travesty, because statistics is the ultimate service discipline: “Statisticians are to numbers what librarians are to words.” This presentation will deal with some of the data challenges that have come my way from biology. Decent statistical analyses of the primary moult of birds were not feasible until the “Underhill-Zucchini moult model” was introduced in 1987. At one stage, the “chain index” used by the BTO to generate trends in wader populations was performing so badly that results for some species were being repressed. The bird atlas projects in South Africa have produced new opportunities to quantify characteristics in bird distributions, the latest being a measure of fragmentation of distribution. GPS tracking of animal movements at intervals of seconds provides opportunities to analyse behaviour in a way never attempted before. Statisticians need to be alert to opportunities to solve problems that researchers in general (and biologists in particular) really have.

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