Eco-Stats symposium 2013

New opportunities at the interface between ecology and statistics

Small river (stream) in the dark evergreen forest. Crystal clear water, rocks, moss, fern, plants close-up. Natural textures. Atmospheric landscape. Pure nature, environment, ecology


Ecologists and statisticians had much to gain from working together, and that two-day symposium was designed to provide precisely such an opportunity. The symposium had been designed as a collaborative forum for researchers with interests in ecology, statistics, or both. World leaders from ecology and statistics had been paired up to present their own perspectives on five topical issues, and round-table discussions had workshopped opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration on these topics.

Sessions had been organized around five special topics, with a pair of speakers on each topic:

Presence-only and point pattern analysis (Jane Elith, Adrian Baddeley)
Maximum entropy estimation in ecology (Bill Shipley, Trevor Hastie)
Visualizing multivariate data (Gerry Quinn, Shirley Pledger)
Mapping bioclimatic variables (Chris Daly, Noel Cressie)
Functional and phylogenetic diversity (Will Cornwell, Anne Chao)


  • Trevor Hastie authored two key texts found on the shelves of most modern applied statisticians: Generalized Additive Models (with Rob Tibshirani), and Elements of Statistical Learning (with Rob Tibshirani and Jerry Friedman). He has made significant contributions to statistical computing, developing software libraries (on S and more recently on R) which form the foundations of many statistical modelling tools in use today. His current research focuses on applied problems in biology and genomics, medicine and industry, in particular data mining, prediction and classification problems. He has been a Professor in Statistics and Biostatistics at Stanford University since 1994, prior to a stint at AT&T Bell Laboratories.

    Trevor's list of honours includes fellowship of all major international statistical associations, and being a keynote speaker dozens of times - on every continent except Antarctica. Trevor's visit is sponsored by CSIRO through the Strategic Partnership between the Statistical Society of Australia and CSIRO.

  • Bill Shipley is a numerical ecologist who has been a full professor at the University of Sherbrooke since 2000. He wrote the acclaimed text Cause and Correlation in Biology and has recently gained attention for his novel maximum entropy approach to studying trait-based community assembly, published in the journal Science and described in his text From plant traits to vegetation structure.

    Bill has published over 100 articles in top journals primarily in ecology and botany, and has been a keynote speaker over a dozen times.

  • Noel Cressie is a leader internationally in spatial statistics, you could say he wrote the book on it - Statistics for spatial data. Recently his focus has moved towards a Bayesian hierarchical modelling approach to spatial statistics, as advocated in his recent text Statistics for spatio-temporal data.

    Noel has received dozens of prestigious awards and honours, including the 2009 R. A. Fisher Award, and fellowship of major international societies in statistics and related disciplines. Following long stints at Iowa State and Ohio State Universities, Noel recently took up an appointment as Distinguished Professor at the University of Wollongong.

  • Chris Daly's background spans meteorology and climatology, geography, and ecology. Chris is the developer of the PRISM spatial climate modeling system, which produces state-of-the-science spatial climate products currently used in thousands of applications worldwide, including official USDA temperature and precipitation maps for the United States.

    Chris received the 2004 Applied Meteorology Award from the American Meteorological Society, the highest award in his discipline. Since 1990, Chris has been at Oregon State University. He is currently a research professor with a dual appointment in the Department of Geosciences, College of Science, and the College of Oceanographic and Atmospheric Sciences.

  • Anne Chao is a statistician who has made important contributions to ecology in each of the last three decades. While initially making inroads into capture-recapture problems, including estimation with unequal catchability, she has more recently pioneered statistical approaches to the estimation of diversity indices which take into account unseen species.

    Anne is an Associate Editor for several journals, including Biometrics, has published over 90 articles and supervised 17 PhD students, and she is an ISI highly cited researcher with over 4000 citations. She is currently Professor at National Tsing Hua University, Taiwan.

  • Adrian Baddeley is a world leader in the development of methods for the analysis of point patterns. He is the developer (with Rolf Turner) of the R package spatstat, which has attracted a lot of recent attention for making advanced methods of point pattern modelling accessible to the applied scientist. Adrian's research spans theory (recently focussing on new diagnostic tools for point pattern analysis) and practice, with recent research motivated by problems in vegetation modelling, astronomy, microscopy and mining.

    Adrian has received a number of honours including Fellowship of the Australian Academy of Science, the Hannan and Pitman medals. Adrian is currently and Australian Research Council fellow (Discovery Outstanding Researcher Award) affiliated with CSIRO Mathematical and Information Sciences and an Adjunct Professor at the University of Western Australia.

  • Jane Elith is a spatial ecologist at the forefront of methodological advances in species distribution modelling, pioneering the introduction of a number of novel machine learning methods to the ecological literature. Her work has very high impact - while she only received her PhD 10 years ago, she is already an ISI highly cited researcher, ranked in the top 100 for environment/ecology with over 4000 ISI Web of Knowledge citations.

    Jane is an Australian Research Council Future Fellow with over $2M in ARC research funding, based at the University of Melbourne.

  • Gerry Quinn is a marine ecologist who is almost as well-known for his contributions as a statistical communicator as for his ecological research. In particular, his text Experimental design and data analysis for biologists (with Mick Keough) has become a key reference world-wide, considerably modernising the standard treatment of statistics for biologists compared to classical texts. Gerry's research interests include studying human environmental impacts on estuaries, and involve the use of multivariate analysis to study marine communities.

    Gerry is a Professor at Deakin University and Chair in Marine Biology.

  • Shirley Pledger is a statistician with active interests in ecology. She has made important contributions to the problem of capture-recapture, in particular, how to estimate populations accounting for differing ability to avoid capture, implemented in many statistics packages including the widely-used MARK. Some of her recent work approaches the problem of ordination of multivariate data in ecology, using an interesting mixture modelling approach.

    Shirley has published extensively in top journals in statistics and zoology. She is currently Professor at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand.

  • Will Cornwell has interests in plant eco-physiology, community ecology and ecosystem ecology. He has a particular interest in functional traits and their use to understand the effects of climate change on terrestrial biodiversity, and has previously proposed methodology for such purposes. While only receiving his PhD six years ago he has already published in most top-tier journals in ecology (including EcologyThe American NaturalistEcology Letters), as well as a couple of journals with a more statistical flavour (BiostatisticsJournal of Theoretical Biology).

    Will has worked or studied at Cornell, Cambridge, Stanford and Berkeley, and was just appointed as a lecturer here at The University of New South Wales in July 2013.

Organising committee

Thanks also to Kaye Sedgers (logistics) and Susannah Waters (publicity, including our fabulous banner!) from the UNSW School of Mathematics and Statistics, who have provided invaluable assistance.