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Making It Fit: Using Excel to Analyze Biological Systems


Author(s)

Robert Leaf
Gulf Coast Research Laboratory
The University of Southern Mississippi
Robert.Leaf@usm.edu
Brian R. Murphy
Fish and Wildlife Conservation
Virginia Tech
murphybr@vt.edu

Abstract

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.


Objectives

  • 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 Areas

Scientific method

Educational Level

Undergraduate upper division

Format

PDF

Type / Methods

Discussion, Interrupted

Language

English

Subject Headings

Natural Resource Management  |   Wildlife Management  |   Ecology  |   Biology (General)  |  


Date Posted

9/11/2009

Teaching Notes

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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).


  Age_Length.xls

Answer Key

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