MRBO in the Kingdom of Fife

by Dana Ripper

A typical home garden in rainy St. Andrews.

Last week, Ethan and I had the incredible good fortune to attend a bio-statistics workshop – in St. Andrews, Scotland!  Presented by the world’s leading authority on Distance Sampling – the Centre for Research in Ecological and Environmental Modelling (CREEM) – the workshop provided us with both extensive theoretical knowledge of the statistics behind distance sampling, and the capability to design field studies such that they’re statistically rigorous.  The theories apply to both point counts and line transects, and, basically, when one conducts surveys there are a number of factors that must be taken into account: how accurately the observer measures distances to each bird, how often birds remove themselves from the observer and how far they go, the effect on detectability of the placement of the lines or points in the landscape, etc.   These factors affect your sample of birds (or whatever you happen to be surveying), and therefore your estimates of densities and abundance.  In five days, we learned an incredible amount thanks to Dr. Eric Rexstad, Dr. Steven Buckland, and their many graduate students.
Since MRBO has established point count surveys at our migration and prairie sites, and has been performing innumerable line transect surveys on private grasslands, it was imperative that we gain the statistical background for properly analyzing those data and to improve our methodology.  You can see how producing  the most accurate measures possible of density and abundance is of greatest importance for conservation! 
A sign at The Central, an archetypical pub on Market Street.
It was humbling to attend classes at a university that is about 350 years older than our country.  The University of St. Andrews was established during the years of 1411-1413, making it the third-oldest university in the English-speaking world (only Oxford and Cambridge are older).   My favorite university building was Edgecliffe, overlooking St. Andrews Bay, which housed the Department of Moral Philosophy and the Department of Logic and Metaphysics.  
The town of St. Andrews, Kingdom of Fife, was nothing short of charming and beautiful.  Due, I expect, to the cultural influence of the university and (for you golf fans) the Old Course, the dining was varied and excellent.  All in all, between the excellence of the workshop and the culture of the town, five days of 10-hours-a-day biostatistics classes felt like a grand vacation. 
We’ll be saving our pounds – and our data! – for the Advanced Distance Sampling workshop at CREEM next summer!

Not much like the College Street in Marshall, MO!

One Response to “MRBO in the Kingdom of Fife

  • Sounds like a grand opportunity indeed! So glad you two hard workers are doing important work here in Missouri.