On the plains and prairies of Minnesota: The role of mathematical statistics in biological explanation

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Abstract

In this essay, I consider the use of mathematical statistics in the study of biological systems in the field, using as case studies the work of Ruth Geyer Shaw and her colleagues at the University of Minnesota. To address practical issues, like how to enhance prairie restoration, and how to prepare for (and perhaps prevent) the effect of rapid climate change, she and her colleagues combine mathematical modeling and intensive data collection in the field. Using ANOVA and the more versatile approach of Aster Models, they show the effects of inbreeding (which follows from the fragmentation of prairie) to lower the fitness of plant populations. They study the genetic variance of plants in stable populations, which is important when that population must deal with changing conditions. And they study the consequences of rapid climate change: even good genetic variance and initial fitness may not save a given population from extinction. This leads to a new alliance of science with local, state, federal and global politics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalSynthese
DOIs
StateAccepted/In press - 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Philosophy
  • Social Sciences(all)

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