Picture of Len

My Research

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:

Research Team

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:

  • Ian Durbach. Estimating dose-response functions from passive acoustic tracking data.
  • Catriona Harris. Methods for analysis of behavioural response study data; density surface modelling.
  • Danielle Harris. Marine mammal density estimation from undersea gliders.
  • Eiren Jacobson. Estimating dose-response functions from passive acoustic count data, and other projects.
  • Laura Marshall. Distance software development.
  • Tiago Marques. Marine mammal density estimation from passive acoustics; population modelling of dolphins.
  • David Miller. Density surface modelling of line transect data; Distance software development.
  • Cornelia Oedekoven. Multi-species dose-response modelling, and other projects.

PhD students

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. Update: thesis submitted 21st Jan 2019!
  • 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). Update: viva done, revisions in progress!
  • Katherine Whyte (Biology, joint with Debbie Russell and Gordon Hastie). Behavioural responses by seals to offshore energy activities.
  • Yunchen Xiao (Mathematics, joint with Mark Chaplain). Parameterizing mathematical models of angiogenesis and diffusion, and selecting among competing models.

I am also an external supervisor for the following students, taking PhD degrees at other institutions:

  • 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.

Other Sites

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.)