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Statistics for Wildlifers: How much and what kind?

A Final Thought


Statistics is itself a very broad scientific field. No statistician is conversant in all of the topics and methods in the field. One well-known and very competent statistician told of his consulting practice. He used to give potential clients a list of the topics about which he was not competent to consult. But he quit doing so, because the list got very large and he was always adding to it, but it was still incomplete. So, if statisticians, who focus on their discipline exclusively, cannot keep abreast of all the methods and approaches, how can we expect wildlife biologists to do so, when their primary attention is on animals and their habitats? The answer, of course, is that we cannot. But a clear understanding of the fundamentals will be extremely valuable.

Far more important than knowing how to analyze data is knowing how to obtain good data. Regardless of the statistical training they receive, all wildlife biologists should appreciate the importance of controls, replication, and randomization in studies they conduct. These principles can sometimes be ignored, but only if one understands them and their consequences. Understanding these concepts requires little mathematical sophistication, but is critical to advancing the science of wildlife ecology.


Acknowledgments. We are grateful to W. R. Gould and D. F. Stauffer for organizing the symposium that stimulated this paper. Comments from R. R. Cox, Jr., W. R. Gould, M. M. Rowland, G. A. Sargeant, G. C. White, and two anonymous referees led to substantial improvements in the presentation.

Photo of Authors: Doug Johnson (left), Terry Shaffer (center), Wes Newton (right) Douglas H. Johnson (left) is a supervisory statistician with the United States Geological Survey, Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center (USGS-NPWRC) at Jamestown, North Dakota. He has an undergraduate degree in mathematics and psychology from the University of Minnesota, a master's degree in statistics from the University of Wisconsin, and a Ph.D. in zoology from North Dakota State University. He currently is the leader of the Grasslands Ecosystem Initiative at the Center. His interests include quantitative applications in wildlife ecology, modeling, and migratory birds, especially grassland birds. Terry L. Shaffer (center) is a supervisory statistician with USGS-NPWRC. He has an undergraduate degree in mathematics and computer science from Moorhead State University and a master's degree in statistics from North Dakota State University. His area of expertise is statistical applications in ecological studies. Wesley E. (Wes) Newton (right) is a supervisory statistician with USGS-NPWRC. He earned his B.S. in general biology from Mesa State College, Grand Junction, Colorado, and an M.S. in applied statistics from Utah State University. Following a 4-year stint as a civilian statistician with United States Army test centers in Utah (Dugway Proving Grounds) and Alaska (Cold Regions Test Center), and a year with the statistics consulting center at the University of Idaho, Moscow, Idaho, he has been at Jamestown for over 10 years. His primary interests include experimental design, sampling design, analysis of data using mixed linear and nonlinear models, and quantitative ecological methods in general.


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