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.
For an accessible overview of my work, see my Inuagural Lecture, delivered at the University of St Andrews on 23rd November 2022.
Here are some more details on the four main strands of my research:
- 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, and here is a video outlining the main concepts, made by the ACCURATE team (see below).
- We have lots of ongoing work in the area of passive acoustics! One strand focusses on estimating animal sound production rate (which we call "cue rate"), a vital component of estimating density from passive acoustics. This project has the acronym ACCURATE, and there's lots more information on the ACCURATE web site.
- I've also been part of a team working on estimating spatial density surfaces for marine mammals - the Denmod project. Here's a link to a technical webinar we gave to document our work on this project.
- 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.
- Modelling animal movement and behaviour.
- One strand of this work involves reconstructing animal tracks from noisy data collected on animal-borne tags. A blog post at the Methods in Ecology and Evolution web site provides an accessible description of one of our papers.
- Another strand is on estimating the behavioural response of marine mammals to Navy sonar, under the projects MOCHA and Double MOCHA.
- Development and application of methods for quantifying the effects of human-caused stressors on animal populations.
- One major theme has been quantifying the impact of 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 was part of a large team involved in estimating the population consequences of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill for whales and dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico, and some ongoing work following up on that. An summary of some of this work is available in the NOAA library online seminar series, focussing on the effect on bottlenose dolphins in a single well-studied Bay and offshore species.
- I'm working on frameworks and methods for estimating the effect of offshore wind development on marine mammals, birds, bats and turtles, as part of a project Wildlife and Offshore Wind (WOW) focussing on the east coast of the USA.
I am a member 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 statistics, ecology and environmental science. Members come from different schools within the University; my home school is Mathematics and Statistics, where I am a Professor and head of 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:
- Danielle Harris. Marine mammal density estimation from undersea fixed sensors and gliders.
- Saana Isojuuno. Wildlife and offshore wind: effects of marine renewable installation and operation on wildlife.
- Eiren Jacobson. Estimating Navy sonary dose-response functions from passive acoustic count data; seal population estimation.
- Laura Marshall. Distance sampling software development; research software engineering.
- Tiago Marques. Marine mammal density estimation from passive acoustics; population modelling of dolphins and pelagic cetaceans.
- Theoni Photopoulou. Cumulative effects of multiple stressors on marine mammals.
- Eric Rexstad. Distance sampling software and methods; methods and software support.
Below is a list of my fabulous PhD students. I'm always looking for well qualified and motivated new students! Please see the list of PhD opportunities in Statistics at St Andrews (pdf file) and the School's web page for more information, including about application procedures and scholarships. Please also feel free to email me with your own project ideas or for further information.
- Grace Edmondson (Statistics, with Saana Isojuuno and Lindesay Scott-Hayward). Wildlife risk assessment for offshore wind energy.
- Fanny Empacher (Statistics, with external supervisor Ken Newman). Sequential Monte Carlo methods for fitting models of wildlife population dynamics.
- Cal Fagard-Jenkin (Statistics). Parallel computing algorithms in ecological statistics.
- Mia Goldman (Biology, with Deborah Russell and Eiren Jacobson). Developing novel methods for estimating the abundance of grey seals.
- Haoyu Liu (Statistics, with Ben Baer and Carl Donovan). Modelling stochastic processes in time.
- Felix Petersma (Statistics, with Danielle Harris). Methods of abundance estimation of sharks and other cartilaginous fish.
- Savannah Rogers (Statistics, with Chris Sutherland). Modelling population dynamics from photographic ID using spatial capture-recapture.
Here's a list of my former PhD students, with links to their PhD theses.
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, appointed Reader in Statistics in 2010 and Professor of Statistics in 2017. I was Director of our research group, the Centre for Research into Ecological and Environmental Modelling (CREEM), between 2014 and 2019 and currently serve as Head of Statistics (jointly with my colleague Andy Lynch) in the School of Mathematics and Statistics.
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.
- Denmod - pages for a project on density surface modelling from line transect data. 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, and the second phase, Double MOCHA. This project is also now finished.
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.
- ORCiD ID 0000-0002-7436-067X - again, a fairly complete list.
- Academia.edu - a partial publication list.