I develop and apply statistical methods to help us better understand the natural world. Most of my work is motivated by applied conservation problems, particularly relating to wild animal populations.
There are currently four main strands to my work:
- Development of methods and software for estimating the size, density and distribution of wild animal and plant populations. I mostly work on a group of related methods called distance sampling. A particular recent focus has been on the use of passive acoustics (i.e., recording sounds) to estimate the size of whale and dolphin populations.
- Here is a poster giving an accessible overview of some of this work.
- Here is an introductory article on distance sampling.
- Our main software product is Distance — for more on this see the Distance project web site.
- Here is an accessible article covering some of the acoustics work.
- There's more on our early work in this area on the DECAF project web site (DECAF stands for Density Estimation for Cetaceans from Acoustic Fixed sensors. I like using coffee-related acronyms for my projects!).
- We have lots of ongoing projects in this area: DECAF-TEA (a demonstration project), AFFOGATO (focussing on gliders), Andreia Pereira's PhD project (on fin whales), and several others.
- Not all of the work I do is on marine mammals! Here's a link to a short video describing how we developed methods for the first population survey of critically endangered Cottontop tamarin monkeys in Colombia.
- Use of computer intensive methods to fit and compare stochastic models of wildlife population dynamics. I mostly work on algorithms called particle filters.
- Here is an accessible article about how particle filters are Darwinian algorithms.
- My main application of this work is to model British and Canadian grey seal population dynamics. Here's a link to the British science advice body, the NERC Special Committee on Seals.
- Inferences from animal-borne tags. This includes reconstructing animal tracks from noisy data about animal location, and inferring behavioural state from tag measurements.
- A recent blog post at the Methods in Ecology and Evolution web site provides an accessible description of one of our papers.
- Development and application of methods for quantifying human-caused disturbance (particularly underwater sounds) on animal behaviour, and also the consequences of this disturbance for the animal populations. This requires a suite of modelling approaches, including those mentioned above.
- Some of this work is described on the SMRU consulting web site.
I am Director of the Centre for Research into Ecological and Environmental Modelling (CREEM) at the University of St Andrews. CREEM is an inter-disciplinary research centre spanning Mathematics and Statistics, Biology and Geography and Geosciences; my home school is Mathematics and Statistics, where I am a Professor in the Division of Statistics. There are around 45 people in CREEM: 15 academic staff, 15 research staff, 13 PhD students and 2 support staff (exact numbers are on the CREEM personnel list). Although I work closely with many of these scientists, my core research team is the post-doctoral staff and students I supervise, listed below.
Post-doctoral research staff
I currently supervise the following first-class scientists:
- Catriona Harris. Methods for analysis of behavioural response study data.
- Danielle Harris. Marine mammal density estimation from undersea gliders.
- Eiren Jacobson. Estimating dose-response functions from passive acoustic data, and other projects.
- Laura Marshall. Distance programming.
- Tiago Marques. Marine mammal density estimation from passive acoustics.
- David Miller. Density surface modelling of line transect data.
- Cornelia Oedekoven. Population Consequence of Disturbance, and other projects.
Below is a list of my current PhD students. I'm always looking for well qualified and motivated new students! Please see this pdf document detailing current opportunities (across the whole Division of Statistics), including information about scholarships; please also feel free to email me with your own project ideas or for further information.
- Guilherme Bortolotto (Biology, joint with Phil Hammond). Whales and humans: the impact of human activities on the ecology of humpback whales along the coast of Brazil.
- Rick Camp (Statistics, joint with Steve Buckland). Spatio-temporal models of point transect data, with application to long-term monitoring program of Hawaiian forest birds.
- Fanny Empacher (Statistics, with external supervisor Ken Newman). Sequential Monte Carlo methods for fitting models of wildlife population dynamics.
- Nancy DiMarzio (Biology, joint with Peter Tyack). Long-term distribution, habitat use, and vocal behavior of Cuvier's beaked whales (Ziphius cavirostris) in an area of regular MFAS use off southern California.
- David Moretti (Biology, joint with Peter Tyack). Determining the effect of Mid-Frequency Active (MFA) sonar on the fitness of Blainville’s beaked whales (Mesoplodon densirostris) in the Tongue of the Ocean (TOTO).
- Katherine Whyte (Biology, joint with Debbie Russell and Gordon Hastie). Behavioural responses by seals to offshore energy activities.
I am also an external supervisor for the following students, taking PhD degrees at other institutions:
- Andreia Pereira (Instituto Dom Luiz, Universidade de Lisboa). Investigation of fin whales using ocean bottom recordings.
- Heloise Pavanato (Department of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Otago). Development of integrated line transect models.
I was born in Tanzania but grew up in Essex, UK. I graduated from the University of Sheffield, UK with an undergraduate degree in biology (BSc. Hons. Animal and Plant Biology, 1990), before moving to the University of York, UK, to do a conversion course into computing and statistics (MSc. Biological Computation, 1991). For my doctorate, I studied with Dr. Kathy Martin at the University of British Colombia, Canada (PhD. Forestry, 1997) — my research topic, on methods of estimating population trends from large-scale wildlife surveys, was at the intersection between ecology, computing and statistics and would set the tone for the rest of my career.
I moved to St Andrews in 1997 to take up a three-year post-doctoral position leading the development of software for the design and analysis of wildlife surveys (software Distance). I found the research environment to be fantastic, with a great group of supportive, knowledgable and stimulating colleagues, both in statistics and biology, and so have been here ever since! I was awarded a 5-year fellowship (Research Councils UK Academic Fellowship) in 2005, and appointed Reader in Statistics in 2010. In 2014 I became Director of our research group, the Centre for Research into Ecological and Environmental Modelling (CREEM), and Professor of Statistics in August 2017.
Here are some links to other sites that contain information about my research. I (co-)manage research content on these sites:
- distancesampling.org - the Distance software web site.
- DECAF - pages for the project Density Estimation for Cetaceans from Acoustic Fixed sensors. The original project is now finished, but we are still working in this field, and post the occasional update.
- MOCHA - pages for the project Multi-study OCean acoustics Human effects Analysis.
I have research profiles (of varying degrees of completeness) on these sites. (A complete list of publications is on this site, under Publications.)
- Research @ St Andrews - the University of St Andrews research portal. Contains more-or-less complete list of publications.
- Google Scholar - most publications, with links to full text.
- Research Gate - a fairly complete publication list, and copies of some publications.
- Academia.edu - a partial publication list.
- ORCiD ID 0000-0002-7436-067X - not much there at present.