MadSci Network: Zoology |

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Hi Chris, Well, that's a fair question, though a very broad one. The use of maths in any science, including zoology, very much depends on what the individual student or zoologist is trying to do. However, there are two main ways maths is likely to be used in zoology; 1. Performing calculations to gain information about some aspect of the animal kingdom such as structure, locomotion (movement) or behaviour. An example of this might be using research results taken by measuring the area of bat wings and weighing the animals to calculate how much that particular species of bat can carry when flying. This could also allow the zoologist to see if there is a difference between male and female bats. You might suggest - or in scientific terms, 'hypothesise' - that female bats can carry more as they have to carry their young when pregnant and still hunt for insects. This approach to using maths means that you can create a mathematical 'model' of a flying bat so that if you put your measurements into a set of equations (hopefully simple ones!), the answers explain how the bat flies. 2. When taking measurements, a zoologist will generally make the same measurement several times and take an average as single measurements might be wrong, or at least variable, and it is important to allow for this. Then, to turn the measurements into answers to questions (which help to see if your suggestion or 'hypothesis' is correct), it is often necessary to test the measurements using a type of maths called 'statistics'. Statistical tests are another set of equations that help you to decide whether your results give useful answers or if the variation you see is just due to chance. It is a very complex area, and the maths can be quite complex, so I won't describe it in detail but the equations in statistics can tell you how closely your measurements and your 'model' (mentioned in point 1) match up and so, how good your model is. This is very important if a zoologist wants other scientists to accept the work they have done. Anyhow, I hope that answers your question, Dr. David Hubble, UK

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