Time & Location

9:25 a.m. to 10:40 a.m. T & Th (306 Lewis Hall)

Course Description

This course is designed to provide students with philosophy, theory, and methods of making valid inferences about animal populations using empirical data collected from studies of animals and their habitats.  The course focuses on theory and methods of sampling and analysis that can be used to

  1. provide reliable estimates of population parameters,
  2. provide valid measures of precision for estimates, and 
  3. relate parameter estimates to covariates of interest.

Analyses and inferences will be based on development and evaluation of competing models that represent hypotheses concerning patterns in the observed data and, when possible, processes that yielded the observed data.  Thus, the course will seek to give students a better understanding of:

  1. model development and selection,
  2. how to make valid inferences,
  3. the importance of underlying assumptions of various methods, and 
  4. current methods, computer-software packages, and literature related to various types of analyses of population and habitat data.

After completing the course students should be better prepared to judge the quality of results and conclusions of population and habitat studies.


Grades will be based upon 2 exams (1 given during the term (100 pts) and a cumulative final exam (150 pts)) and ~12 homework assignments (10 pts each). If a student’s score is close to one of the deciles used for grade cut-offs, then their participation in class will be considered. If participation was excellent, the higher letter grade will be awarded.

Syllabus & Course Materials

All materials for offerings of the course for years after 2017 are provided through Montana State University's D2L course software.


Various additional readings will be assigned to supplement the book and software documentation.  For example, we’ll rely heavily on the on-line book by Cooch and White (2007), which is an excellent manual for many of our homework exercises.  Larkin Powell and George Gale's primer on analyses and sampling design for mark-recapture and survey efforts might also be useful to you.

Useful Supplemental Book

Williams, B. K., J. D. Nichols, & M. J. Conroy.  2002.  Analysis and management of animal populations: modeling, estimation, and decision making.  Academic Press, New York. 

The book by Williams et al. provides the underlying philosophy of the course and many provides many key details regarding the methods presented in the course such as reviews of the supporting literature for the methods, details of the likelihoods for the methods, assumptions of various methods, and consideration of robustness of methods to assumption violations. Although the book is now almost 20 years old, it is still a very useful resource. However, the book is not required for the course.

An Important Fact

This is an intensive course and much of the material will require careful thought if you are to understand it.  Students should plan their schedules for the semester accordingly. Students with less training and aptitude in quantitative material, statistics, and use of computers should expect to spend a large amount of extra time outside of class on this course.

Updated: 02/24/2022