Aaron MacNeil is a quantitatively-oriented marine biologist working to understand the effects of disturbance on fish communities and the development of ecological benchmarks for marine resource management. Originally from Nova Scotia, Canada he has worked on fisheries and conservation management problems in a wide-range of ecosystems from French Polynesia to the Canadian Arctic. He holds a Master’s in Fisheries from the University of Georgia (USA) and a PhD in Marine Biology from Newcastle University (UK). Aaron is currently Research Scientist in Marine Biodiversity at the Australian Institute of Marine Science.
The dazzling complexity apparent to every visitor of coral reefs is both a source of wonder and difficulty for researchers studying the ecology of reef ecosystems. Unravelling this complexity requires a wide-range of analytical tools as well as the skill to use them appropriately. The main tool for inference in ecology is statistics, yet few biologists have a deep understanding of what statistics are and how they can be used effectively and creatively. In particular, studying the natural world through observation is a difficult task that is made still more difficult by the inadequate set of statistical tools taught at the majority of the world’s universities. Often researchers are given to using statistical recipes with the objective of passing a critical test of their idea and appearing to be empirical. However in many ecological studies – particularly those of high complexity and at large scales – no experiments are conducted and conventional recipes are both inappropriate and misleading. More importantly, this recipe-based approach to analysis stifles creativity and muffles ecological ideas. Breaking out of this analytical rut requires a refocusing of priorities, where ideas drive the analysis and statistics are the co-pilot.