Hi Nino! Please could you tell us a little bit about yourself and your job?
I am Nino and I am a biologist. My main interest is the behaviour of animals and how they work together as populations. We call this field population ecology of animals, and an important part is finding out how changes in the environment can affect the survival of these animals.
For this purpose, I collect data on wild animals in the field and analyse this data using mathematical methods. The species I am researching at the moment are meerkats and sturgeon fish.
Why do you think maths is important?
Maths is used in a lot of different fields of science. This is because when we look at things, they don’t always make sense on their own. By using maths as well, we can find out if the things that we observe in nature follow certain rules. This type of mathematics is called statistics, where we find out information (collect data) and then analyse it (look for patterns).
How do you use maths in your job?
I use mathematics and statistics to understand what makes meerkats behave in a particular way. For example, I observe meerkats and the weather, so that I can calculate whether meerkats have fewer babies when it rains less and it gets warmer.
This is really important for us to know because our climate is changing and we need to understand how we can protect animals.
Do you have any advice for someone who may find some parts of maths tricky?
If there’s a part of maths that you find hard, try practising all of the steps. If you’re struggling to work out how to find 5/8 of a number, you might want to try practising finding 1/2 of a number, or 1/8.
The more you practise, the better you get to know the rules and the easier you find it. When you find the right answer to a problem you’ve been struggling with, it’s very rewarding and you learn to love it! Maths can be fun!
What’s your favourite number and why?
My favourite number is 3 because that is the average number of babies a meerkat has in its litter.
If a school wanted a biologist to visit their school, what advice would you give them?
You may want to contact your nearest university and find out if any research scientists would be willing to come in to school, or a parent may know somebody.
The research scientist could give a small presentation about their topic that is easy to understand and the children should be asked a lot of questions, for example, how they would use mathematics to solve a problem in the scientist’s field.
Thank you Nino!
How do biologists use maths?
One of the biggest parts of Nino’s job is to be out in the field (that means he is out in the real world rather than sitting in an office) collecting data on the animals he is studying. A lot of this is tracking the meerkats and recording the information. Nino will need to use statistics to analyse it and look for patterns, or trends. He may also need to be able to find averages of the data he collects in order to draw conclusions.
Nino has to be able to measure the amount of rainfall to see whether this affects the meerkats. He may also have to be able to measure things such as the quantity of food available to them, or the distance that they cover, and may need to convert between metric measurements (millimetres, centimetres, grams, kilograms etc) and imperial measurements (ounces, pounds, feet, yards etc).
While he is observing meerkats, Nino may have to be quite fast with his mental maths. Because animals move quickly, he might need to count them before they disappear. This means that he needs to be able to count in multiples, and he also needs to be able to add or subtract those numbers in his head. He may also need to multiply or divide, especially if he’s looking at litters of meerkats and making predictions.
Fractions and percentages:
When Nino has finished measuring, counting, recording and analysing his data, he has to write a report which tells people what he has found. He might use fractions and percentages in his report to explain trends. For example, one fact about meerkats is that they live in groups (called mobs) of between three to 50, and it’s usually one male and one female meerkat who have 90% of the baby meerkats in the whole group!