Ecology News Round-up Research

A century of statistical Ecology

A new collection in the Ecological Society of America’s journal Ecology compiles landmark studies published in its pages over the past 100 years that have advanced the use of statistics in ecology. The collection of papers, “A century of statistical Ecology, features 36 studies that have provided ecologists with crucial analytical tools for gaining deeper insight into the workings of the natural world.  

“This collection was inspired by the rich history of statistics papers published in Ecology over the past century, and it celebrates how far the field has come,” says Neil Gilbert, one of the compilation’s organizers. He adds, “Assembling the 36 papers, we were struck by how the development of statistical methods over time mirrors the history of the field as a whole.”

Technical innovations like remote sensing, camera traps and other forms of automated data collection, along with the increasing popularity of citizen-science programs, have revolutionized the practice of ecology. This rapid growth in the sheer volume and breadth of data has necessitated development of novel analytical techniques.

“Ecological data and computational capabilities are evolving rapidly, and we’re also seeing an exciting expansion of the statistical tools that ecologists can use,” says Elise Zipkin, the collection’s co-organizer.

Divided into seven general themes, the papers address a wide variety of topics, such as estimating animals’ home ranges and population sizes; methods to quantify how much species overlap in their habitat and resource needs (including Ecology’s all-time most-cited article); guidelines for ensuring proper model selection; and the application of machine-learning tools.

As Zipkin points out, the development of quantitative approaches is an ongoing process that progresses in leaps and bounds as new technologies emerge and fresh perspectives are incorporated. “Artificial intelligence-based methods, in particular, seem poised to become integral parts of ecologists’ toolkits,” she notes. “We also anticipate changes in the community of ecologists themselves, reflecting a move toward greater recruitment and retention of people from groups that were historically excluded from academia and science.”

Find the collection of papers online here.