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Do you like to use mathematics to solve real problems?
We have all heard the expression "cannot see the forest for the trees." The role of the forest statistician is to link the forest and the trees through a scientific process of measurement, analysis, and deduction. Following are some examples of ongoing biometrical research.
Can the past reveal the future? That is the hope of dendrochronologists. These are scientists who study the past growth of trees in relation to past weather and climate records. From 800-year-old bald cypress in the Mississippi Delta to red spruce atop the mountains of Maine to stately firs in the northwest, forest statisticians are studying the living history revealed by the growth rings of trees to see whether growth differs from that of past decades and centuries.
What proportion of British Columbia forests provide nesting habitat for rare and endangered species? Because they cannot study the millions of square kilometers of the province's forested landscape, scientists use statistical procedures to sample part of the forest. From the information in the sample, they make estimates about the entire population in much the same way political pollsters forecast the likely outcomes of elections. Forest sampling, which dates back to 19th-century Scandinavia, is constantly evolving in response to new concerns about forest health and productivity by making use of technological advances.
Can computers grow trees? To understand how a community of trees reacts to different forms of forest management and environmental changes, forest biometricians have created models that simulate growth. With these models, they can test the response of the trees to various conditions. By doing so, they provide insight into processes and dynamics of forest ecosystems that would take years to observe in the field.
How does the space age help our understanding of forests? Airborne laser instruments can accurately measure the height of the uppermost layer of the forest, yet vegetation beneath this canopy remains hidden. Forest biometricians are seeking ways to combine the airborne measurements with statistical models and sampling procedures to determine the distribution of all vegetation on the forest floor.
As these examples highlight, forestry research is a multifaceted task with global implications. From the vast expanses of the northern boreal forests to tropical rain forests to our own back yards, trees dominate the landscape. They are warehouses of energy, nutrients, and raw materials. They clean our air and are an important source of recreation.
How trees grow, develop, propagate, and interact with each other and their environment are just some of the issues of interest to the forest biometrician. Yet, the forest resource is more than just the trees. Opportunities and challenges exist for the application of the tools of statistics at all levels of the forest ecosystem.