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.

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:

Research Team

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.

PhD students

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.

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.
  • 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.)