Statistical Ecologist or Environmental Statistician

Statisticians have a background in Mathematics and Statistics which they use to calculate probabilities. When they combine this with knowledge of ecology and biodiversity, they can specialise in calculating useful probabilities in the behaviour of whole populations of plant and animal species.


A key advantage of this career is that it plays an important role in helping to deal with some of the key issues that face our society and our planet, such as climate change, flooding and the loss of biodiversity.

An environmental statistician’s job inherently cuts across different areas of expertise (hydrology, ecology, climate science) so there is the opportunity for having a varied workload.

Environmental and ecological data present many challenging statistical problems and new issues are constantly arising as new data collection technologies are developed (satellite imaging, electronic tagging, gene sequencing) – environmental statistics can, therefore, be an exciting and intellectually stimulating field in which to work.

Statisticians working in this sector may tackle problems in areas such as the following:


  • climatology, e.g. assessing changes in climate patterns

  • oceanography, e.g. assessing the patterns of temperature in ocean currents and their effects on the weather

  • extreme event risk assessment, e.g. looking at the probabilities of floods in an area, or of increasing wave heights which may damage offshore structures

  • fisheries statistics, e.g. assessing the population size and the development of fish stocks

  • environmental model assessment, e.g. using sensitivity and uncertainty analyses on models to determine the accuracy of predicting future carbon budgets

  • impact assessment, e.g. assessing the effects of a new factory on the local environment

  • environmental epidemiology, e.g. assessing the effects of air pollution on the prevalence of asthma

  • ecology, e.g. reduction of the protea population due to over-harvesting

  • compliance issues, e.g. devising sampling schemes to ensure that legislation protecting rivers from excessive pollution is being observed


The key role of the environmental statistician is to analyse or to give advice on the analysis of environmental data. They work closely with others involved (environmental scientists, technical staff and policy makers) to make sure that they understand the environmental data and are able to deploy appropriate techniques in response.

Environmental problems may require the development of innovative statistical methodology which is suitable for publication in statistics journals, and that may also be published in the appropriate environmental journals. This could lead to opportunities for attending national and international conferences to present papers and to learn from the work of fellow statisticians.


Employment

• research institutes such as SAIAB, SANBI and SAEON
• universities, where they also teach


Programmes

Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (Tanzania), National University of Lesotho, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, Sokoine University of Agriculture, University of Botswana, University of Johannesburg, University of Malawi (Chancellor College), University of Namibia, University of Stellenbosch, University of Swaziland


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