Eco-Stats symposium 2015

Technological advances between Ecology and Statistics

Aerial view Trees in the forest top view aerial rainforest ecosystem And healthy environment concept and background texture of forest view green trees from above text copy spac. Banner panorama


Ecologists and statisticians have much to gain from working together, and that conference was designed to provide precisely such an opportunity. The conference had been a follow-up to the 2013 meeting, and 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. The conference had started with an optional "Skills-Building Day", a series of computer-based tutorials run across topics spanning the interests of conference speakers. It had also featured a contributed poster evening session where participants could turn the topic of conversation to their own research.

Sessions were organised around six special topics, with a pair of speakers on each topic:

  • Model-based analysis of metagenomics data in ecology (Douglas Yu, Otso Ovaskainen)
  • Occupancy modelling with imperfect detection (Darryl MacKenzie, Alan Welsh)
  • Analysing counts along stream networks (Bruce Chessman, Jay ver Hoef)
  • Capture-recapture using modern technology (Paul Sunnucks, Rachel Fewster)
  • Estimating biodiversity turnover (Melodie McGeoch, Cang Hui)
  • A fighting framework fight: game theory vs. machine learning for strategic behaviour during animal combat (Michael Kasumovic, Daniel Falster)

Before the conference kicked off we offered a two-day short course for ecologists "Intro to regression modelling on R", December 6-7 at UNSW. For more advanced analysts, Noel Cressie offered "Spatio-Temporal Statistical Modelling" down the road at Circular Quay, the day before the conference (December 7).


  • Otso Ovaskainen is an internationally renowned researcher at the interface between mathematics, statistics and biology. His work focusses on connecting general theories with empirical research, which has led to important contributions to metapopulation theory and dispersal theory. He has recently been interested in adapting modern statistical tools to ecology, including diffusion-based stochastic processes for the study of animal movement, and latent variable models for community ecology and the study of species interactions.

    Otso is a Professor in the Department of Biosciences at the University of Helsinki, Finland as well as in the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, Norway. He has authored over 100 publications, including in Nature and Science. For his contributions to theoretical and population ecology, he won the prestigious 2009 Academy of Finland Award, awarded to only two scientists nationally each year.

  • Douglas Yu's research focusses on technical aspects of biodiversity conservation, such as metagenetic and mitogenomic methods to relax the taxonomic impediment in biodiversity surveys. He also uses economic models to study the theory of mutualism and symbiosis.

    Doug originally trained as a tropical ecologist, completing his PhD at Harvard in 1997. He is now a Reader at the University of East Anglia, England, and founding Director of a joint research centre between UEA and the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Ecology, Conservation, and Environment, which has attracted over $2M to support its research.

  • Jay ver Hoef develops and evaluates new statistical technology for ecological problems, especially those involving spatial structuring (e.g. stream data, animal movement) and sometimes the analysis of discrete data. One of his imporant methodological achievements was pioneering the development of spatial models for data collected along stream networks.

    Jay works as a senior statistician for the National Marine Mammal Laboratory based in Seattle, and is an Adjunct Professor of Statistics at the University of Alaska. In the time since completing his PhD with Noel Cressie (University of Iowa) he has been honoured with a number of awards, including a Distinguished Achievement Award from the American Statistical Association (Statistics in the Environment Section), and Fellowship of the American Statistical Association.

  • Cang Hui is a mathematical ecologist who is interested in proposing models and theories for explaining emerging patterns in ecology, especially on patterns that are related to the spatial distribution of species and biodiversity, the architecture of ecological networks and the evolution of adaptive traits.

    Cang is a Professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at Stellenbosch University and South African Research Chair in Mathematical and Theoretical Physical Biosciences. He is on the editorial board of Biological InvasionsBMC Ecology and Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution.

  • Rachel Fewster is an ecological statistician best known for her contributions to methods for capture/recapture and distance sampling, and to population genetics for sourcing invasive species. Her research spans theory and practice, being published regularly in top journals in Statistics as well as in Ecology.

    Rachel is an Associate Professor in Statistics at the University of Auckland. She is on the editorial board for Biometrics and has been a keynote speaker at the major international conferences in ecological statistics and statistics education.

  • Darryl MacKenzie is an ecological statistician and leading expert in occupancy modelling under imperfect detection, having lead-authored one of the seminal papers on the topic (Mackenzie et al 2002, Ecology) as well as the text Occupancy estimation and modeling: inferring patterns and dynamics of species occurrence. He also dabbles in mark-recapture and distance sampling.

    Darryl is a Biometrician with Proteus Wildlife Research Consultants (Dunedin, New Zealand), and provides design and analysis advice on ecological applications to institutions and researchers around the world.

  • Alan Welsh is a methodological statistician with wide-ranging interests, often motivated by ecological applications. In the 1990's Alan pioneered the application of zero-inflated models in ecology, in collaborative work with David Lindenmeyer, Ross Cunningham and Christine Donnelly. His current research interests span model selection, linear mixed models and occupancy modelling under imperfect detection.

    Alan Welsh is the E J Hannan Professor of Statistics at the Australian National University. He is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science, the American Statistical Association, the Institute for Mathematical Sciences, and winner of the Moran Medal (Australian Academy of Science) and the Pitman Medal (Statistical Society of Australia Inc).

  • Melodie McGeoch focusses on the ecology and conservation of populations, communities and landscapes, for example, the study of climate change impacts and biodiversity policy implementation. She has published over 100 articles, and is perhaps best-known for her early research on bioindicators. She has a long interest in spatial ecology and has recently been working on metrics for quantifying biodiversity turnover.

    Melodie is an Associate Professor in the School of Biological Sciences at Monash University. In 2014 she won the Australian Ecology Research Award (Ecological Society of Australia).

  • Paul Sunnucks is at the forefront of collaborative research using modern genetics techniques to answer ecological questions, studying the functioning and attributes of Australian fauna in natural and human-impacted systems. His study species have included bush birds, freshwater fish, arid zone fish and invertebrates, log-dwelling forest invertebrates, and mammals.

    Paul is a Professor in the School of Biological Sciences at Monash University.

  • Bruce Chessman is a scientist and consultant specialising in freshwater ecology, from cyanobacteria to turtles. He is particularly interested in the conservation of freshwater species, human impacts on fresh waters, and is best known for his work using macroinvertebrates and diatoms as ecological indicators for rivers and wetlands.

    Bruce is an Adjunct Associate Professor at UNSW Australia, in the Centre for Ecosystem Science.

  • Daniel Falster is an evolutionary biologist and ecologist with a particular interest in using mathematical models to test fundamental ideas about the processes shaping biological communities. He has also been known to try his hand as software programmer, writing the original version of the SMATR software for allometric line-fitting.

    Daniel is an ARC DECRA fellow at Macquarie University in the Department of Biological Sciences.

  • Michael Kasumovic is an evolutionary biologist who studies the innate differences between males and females and how the environment, both social and ecological, modifies these differences. His study species include insects, spiders and humans.

    Michael is a Senior Lecturer and ARC Future Fellow at UNSW Australia in the Evolution & Ecology Research Centre. He has won awards from Scopus, the American Society of Naturalists, he is a NSW Young Tall Poppy, and currently an Editor for Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution.

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.