Questions for ‘Endangered or just rare? Statistics give meaning to the head counts’

a man holds a gyrfalcon

Wildlife biologist Travis Booms holds a young gyrfalcon. “It's really important that biologists have a basic understanding and foundation in statistics,” he says. That understanding helps him study birds and other animals for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Robert Goodwin

To accompany feature “Endangered or just rare? Statistics give meaning to the head counts


Before Reading:

1. How do scientists know if an animal is endangered or not?

2. For an assignment, you learn that you will need to compare your class to another one at your school. List three measurements or types of data you would collect about each class and the students in them. How would you use these data to compare the classes?

During Reading:

1.  What did Travis Booms hope to learn by searching for gray-headed chickadees in Alaska? What other type of data did he end up using to study these birds?

2.  What is statistics? Why is it important for scientists?

3.  How did Leslie New use statistics in her study on eagles and wind turbines?

4.  What is the difference between correlation and causation?

5.  What is a null hypothesis? How do scientists use null hypotheses?

6.  State one null hypothesis New might use when studying whether noise from boats makes it hard for dolphins to reproduce. What data would she need to collect to test that hypothesis?

7.  According to New’s work, what characteristics of dolphin populations affected how sensitive they were to boat noise? How could that information be used to help protect dolphins?

8.  What data did Zach Farris and his team collect about carnivores in Madagascar? How did they use that data to learn about the animals in the protected part of the rainforest?

9.  What finding did Farris make about pet dogs?

10.  What is Bayesian statistics? What does this approach help scientists do?

After Reading:

1.  As described in the story, spotted fanaloka showed up in 157 of Farris’ photo captures; fosa appeared in 17 and pet dogs in 72. Imagine Farris’ team repeated the study twice more. The second year, their pictures captured 118 spotted fanaloka, 19 fosa and 89 pet dogs. Based on the patterns of change, predict approximate numbers of each species they might expect to find in year three. How might your predictions change if, six months before the last set of photos, the Madagascar government instituted a rule prohibiting free-roaming dogs within 50 kilometers of the protected rainforest?

2.  What are two careers you might be interested in pursuing? Describe two ways each one would rely on statistics.

Lillian Steenblik Hwang is the associate digital editor for Science News for Explores. She has a bachelor's degree in biology (and a minor in chemistry) from Georgia State University and a master's degree in in science journalism from Boston University.