Nature Lab

By Bonnie Chasteen | March 1, 2018
From Missouri Conservationist: March 2018

Resource Science: Making Ecological Data Useful

One morning in 2015, Ivan Vining got a call from Jasmine Batten, an MDC deer biologist.

“We’ve found a CWD positive in Franklin County,” she said. “How soon can you get me a reliable sampling goal?”

“Give me a few hours,” Vining said and started writing code. A few hours later, he sent Batten the number: about 300. Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is fatal to deer, and Vining’s work helped Batten’s team determine the sampling goal, or the number of deer to cull to keep the disease from spreading.

Vining has extensive training and experience in designing mark-recapture studies, in which animals are captured, marked, and released, for population analysis. He is one of three biometricians who work for MDC. As biometricians, Vining, Leah Berkman (a geneticist) and Sherry Gao (a statistician) help ensure the reliability and define the scope of the information MDC can get from its statistical analyses and research efforts.

“We translate biology and natural processes into mathematical concepts that you can work with,” Berkman said. Vining agreed. “We make ecological data useful.”

Batten’s call is just one of many requests biometricians may receive throughout a typical workday. Aside from responding to field requests for analysis, MDC’s biometricians advise on the design and methods of staff research proposals. In a given year, they may advise on 18–30 proposals on topics ranging from plants to fish to wildlife. They also advise adjoining states, which may not have staff biometricians.

Sometimes, the biometricians join other resource scientists in the field, but most days, they’re at their computers, crunching data. “We enjoy the satisfaction of writing code, pressing enter, and getting an answer,” Berkman said.

A Recent Workday in the Life of Biometrician Sherry Gao

  • 8:30 a.m. Start work on creel survey for Fisheries Division
  • 10 a.m. Get a call from Forestry Division staff who needs help ASAP!
  • Noon Lunch at desk
  • 1 p.m. Advise intern on analysis for a mourning dove manuscript
  • 4 p.m. Start reviewing Human Dimensions project proposal (no time to finish it today!)

This Issue's Staff

Editor - Angie Daly Morfeld

Associate Editor - Bonnie Chasteen

Staff Writer - Larry Archer
Staff Writer - Heather Feeler
Staff Writer - Kristie Hilgedick
Staff Writer - Joe Jerek

Creative Director - Stephanie Thurber

Art Director - Cliff White

Designer - Les Fortenberry
Designer - Marci Porter

Photographer - Noppadol Paothong
Photographer - David Stonner

Circulation - Laura Scheuler