MadSci Network: Zoology

Re: How does Zoology use math?

Date: Mon Jan 10 03:43:52 2005
Posted By: David Hubble, Consultant/Owner
Area of science: Zoology
ID: 1101689881.Zo

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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