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Making It Fit: Using Excel to Analyze Biological Systems

Co Authors:

Robert Leaf
Gulf Coast Research Laboratory
The University of Southern Mississippi

Brian R. Murphy
Fish and Wildlife Conservation
Virginia Tech


In this case, students read about a biologist who needs to determine how to analyze age-at-length data, a common situation in fisheries biology. The fictional Dr. Latimer is tasked with fitting non-linear models to the data, and the case develops as he draws parallels between linear and non-linear models. After learning the terminology and concepts through a series of exercises, students use Excel's built-in Solver algorithm to fit models to the data. Intended for use in a fisheries biology, ecology, or management class, the case is targeted to junior and senior level undergraduate students who have some experience using spreadsheets on microcomputers and some knowledge of ichthyology.

  • Understand the similarities of non-linear and simple linear regression.
  • Appreciate the importance of non-linear regression to describe natural phenomena.
  • Learn how to use the "Solver" algorithm in Microsoft Excel.
  • Become familiar with basic computer programming in Microsoft Excel.
  • Understand fish growth and gain exposure to the most commonly used model to describe it<./li>
Keywords: Fisheries management; ichthyology; yellow tang; Zebrasoma flavescens; fish; fish growth; age determination; von Bertalanffy growth function; non-linear regression; Microsoft Excel; Hawaii
Topical Area: Scientific method
Educational Level: Undergraduate upper division
Formats: PDF
Type/Method: Discussion, Interrupted
Language: English
Subject Headings: Natural Resource Management   Wildlife Management   Ecology   Biology (General)  
Date Posted: 9/11/2009
Date Modified: N/A
Copyright: Copyright held by the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science, University at Buffalo, State University of New York. Please see our usage guidelines, which outline our policy concerning permissible reproduction of this work.

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Supplemental Materials

Simulated age and growth data for yellow tang, the species of fish used in the case study, are included in the supplemental Excel spreadsheet provided here (Age_Length.xls).


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