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.

Personal Requirements

  • have very good mathematical aptitude and a preference for working with figures
  • be able to reason logically
  • have a well-developed aptitude for planning and analysing problems, so as to be able to solve or take on problems outside their field of experience
  • be a good communicator, able to express ideas and views in simple and clear language
  • be able to work as part of a team
  • be proficient working with computers

How to Enter

Schooling & School Subjects

National Senior Certificate meeting degree requirements for a degree course

Each institution has its own entry requirements.

What to Study

Degree: follow a BSc degree in Ecology or related subject at any university, making sure that Statistics is part of the course.

Post-graduate study: For optimum career opportunities this degree should be followed by a MSc or PhD in Biostatistics, as most demand is for statisticians who can work with scientists from other disciplines, have a wide knowledge of available statistical methods and the confidence to provide the necessary statistical quality control on their work without day-to-day supervision.

Possible Career Paths

Resource statisticians should specialise in a particular field. Expertise in a particular area of methodology can bring you into contact with many different fields of application, and open up new opportunities in your career.

Rapid career advancement is most likely for those who can provide innovative, practical solutions to applied problems, who have the ability to engage in and contribute to multidisciplinary projects. Senior positions will often involve the management of staff and will typically involve some degree of responsibility for seeking and securing new funding.


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

Further Information

Animal Demography Unit
University of Cape Town

South African Statistical Association
P O Box 27321
Pretoria, 0132
Tel: (012) 997-0653

South African Environmental Observation Network (SAEON)
The Woods
Building C, Ground Floor
41 De Havilland Crescent
Persequor Technopark
Pretoria, 0020
Tel: (012) 349-7722

The South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI)
2 Cussonia Ave
Brummeria, Pretoria.
Tel: (012) 843-5000

South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity (SAIAB)
Private Bag 1015
Grahamstown, 6140
Tel: (046) 603-5800

Programmes by Study Institutions

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