Tanya Berger-Wolf - Computational Behavioral Ecology

Date of Presentation: 
Wednesday, May 14, 2014
Faculty Sponsor: 
Ankur Teredesai
2014 Spring
Research Focus: 

Computation has fundamentally changed the way we study nature. Recent breakthroughs in data collection technology, such as GPS and other mobile sensors, high definition cameras, satellite images, genotyping, and crowdsourcing, are giving biologists access to data about wild populations, from genetic to social interactions, that are orders of magnitude richer than any previously collected. Ecology, being the science of connections among living organisms and their environment, among different biological scales, from organisms to the planet, is particularly well positioned and is in need of those data. Such data offer the promise of answering some of the big questions in ecology but only if we can have the methods, both computational and ecological, to take those data to scientific insight.  This combination of ecology, technology, computation, and data science is the emerging field of computational ecology.

Behavioral ecology is the study of animal behavior in the context of evolution and animal's environment. Unfortunately, in the domain of behavioral ecology, as in many others,  our ability to analyze data lags substantially behind our  ability to collect it. In this talk I will show how computational approaches can be part of every stage of the scientific process of understanding animal sociality, from data collection (identifying individual animals from photographs by stripes and spots, sampling an inferring social networks) to hypothesis formulation (by designing a novel computational framework for analysis of dynamic social networks).

Dr. Tanya Berger-Wolf is an Associate Professor in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where she heads the Computational Population Biology Lab. Her research interests are in applications of computational techniques to problems in population biology of plants, animals, and humans, from genetics to social interactions. As a legitimate part of her research she gets to fly in a super-light airplane over a nature preserve in Kenya, taking a hyper-stereo video of zebra populations.

Dr. Berger-Wolf has received her Ph.D. in Computer Science from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2002. After spending some time as a postdoctoral fellow working in computational phylogenetics and doing research in computational epidemiology, she returned to Illinois. She has received numerous awards for her research and mentoring, including the US National Science Foundation CAREER Award and the UIC Mentor of the Year and Graduate Mentor awards.