Meet Dr Emily Dennis

Emily Dennis

Introducing the newest member of Butterfly Conservation's science team, who was awarded the Faculty of Sciences Prize for Postgraduate Research at the University of Kent in 2015, has had 7 papers published since 2014 and received an "Honourable Mention" from the judges of the 2017 Young Biometrician's Award.

Name: Dr Emily Dennis

Job Title: Senior Ecological Statistician

When did you become part of the Butterfly Conservation team?

I first arrived at BC in April 2015 as a Post-Doctoral Research Associate in a project in partnership with the University of Kent. I was delighted to become a full-time member of the monitoring team in May 2017 in the position of Senior Ecological Statistician. 

What was the subject of your PhD?

I studied at the University of Kent within the statistical ecology group and worked in association with the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) and BC. The PhD focused on the development of statistical methods for modelling the abundance of butterflies and other insects.

What have you discovered while applying your analysis methods to BC's recording and monitoring datasets?

It's been great to be able to confirm the value of citizen science data. There has always been a concern about sampling methodology affecting validity. I've been able to show that population trends for widespread species, emerging from mass participation schemes like the Big Butterfly Count, closely match the rigorously sampled UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme.

Which element of your work are you most proud of?

A benefit of the new methods developed is that they are relatively rapid and efficient to compute which means that it is easier for smaller organisations working with large datasets to analyse the data without needing access to supercomputers. It has been really rewarding to see how my models can lead to better-targeted work, resulting in vulnerable species getting the protection they need.

What next?

The occupancy method is currently being refined and applied further using moth data from the National Moth Recording Scheme (NMRS) and in compiling moth distribution trends for BCs forthcoming moth atlas. I’m continuing to maintain my links with the University of Kent where I am a Visiting Research Associate in Statistics.