BES Computational Ecology SIG: the “something for all” SIG

Quantitative methods are evolving fast in ecology, way faster than any of us can keep up with. Many of us do not have the foundational training in mathematical, statistical or computational skills to pick these up easily. Otherwise we’d work for banks, obviously. One consequence is that many of us spend a lot of our time feeling frustrated by quantitative methods.

The Computational Ecology SIG exists to help members with the quantitative techniques that involve some form of computation (the vast majority of them). This includes data entry, storage and delivery, statistical analyses and modelling. Our priority is to enable the widest possible community of ecologists understand and use the best quantitative computational methods. We’ve not been clear about that over the last couple of years because we ourselves were not entirely sure how best to serve you. Therefore we resorted to doing what any self-respecting ecologist would have done and ran a set of experiments; a number of different events pitched at various audiences with different levels of quantitative expertise. The clear winner was to provide people with opportunities to learn how to implement quantitative methods well. Hence, our most popular events in the past year have been training courses on integrated population modelling, species distribution modelling, spatial analysis and good coding practices. At those, people clearly made the most of the opportunity and got on with the learning, discussions and asking challenging questions.

So moving forward we intend to do more training events, and build upon them: broadening out to an even wider community of people aiming to get started with the methods, wanting to understand how to do them well, or simply understand what they are all about. This year we have big plans. We’re going to expand on our online presence by setting up a website to serve you with useful updates, tutorials, guides, advice and blog posts on quantitative methods. We’re also going to provide you with an online Field Guide to Ecological Models; to tell you all those things about the different methods you never get told in any undergraduate ecology degree as well as those things you might have done. As well as expanding this presence we aim to continue to host training events and we’ll provide more information about those as they emerge (likely a software carpentry bootcamp, an ‘ecological models in conservation applications’ workshop and an event again with the International Biometric Society and Royal Statistical Society).

Our SIG does not have the largest membership but we could potentially serve the largest proportion of BES members: those aiming to make sense and use out of the quantitative methods. You don’t need to be a computer nerd to join (and NO it doesn’t help… that’s the point!)

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