University of Vermont

Vermont Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit Spreadsheet Project

The Spreadsheet Project

Frequently Asked Questions

This page contains answers to common questions handled by our support staff (Terri Donovan), along with some tips and tricks that we have found useful and presented here as questions.

  1. How do I install Solver?
  2. Where can I find programs PRESENCE, MARK, and GENPRES?
  3. What if my macro doesn't work?
  4. Who is Therese Donovan?
  5. What is the Vermont Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit?
  6. When will the Sinauer books become part of the Spreadsheet Project?
  7. Don't only sissies use spreadsheets?
  8. What other options are there for modeling?
  9. Should I use Excel as a database?
  10. Should I use Excel for statistical analysis?

How do I install Solver?

For Excel 2007, click on the Office Button on the upper left hand of the spreadsheet, then choose the button labeled Excel Options. Select the Add-Ins link on the left, and then at the bottom of the page, select Manage: Excel Add-Ins and then press Go.... Check the Solver Add-in checkbox. To see if Solver is available on your in older spreadsheet versions, go to Tools | Add-Ins, and make sure the Solver Add-in is checked. If it's checked, you should be able to access Solver by going to Tools | Solver. If the Solver Add-in does not appear as an option, you'll need to install it from disk. Contact your administrator.

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Where can I find programs PRESENCE, MARK, and GENPRES?

Many of the spreadsheet exercises in this project focus on estimating parameters for wildlife populations, such as occupancy, survival rates, and abundance. Gary White and Jim Hines have developed programs to conduct such analyses, and you'll need to download can find links to these programs on many different pages in the Spreadsheet Project, or just Google them. All of the exercises in this project focus on conducting an analysis first in a spreadsheet. This is to ensure that you understand exactly how parameters are estimated because all of the equations are revealed. However, when it is time to do an analysis of "real" data, you'll want to use one of these programs because estimation methods are superior to that of a spreadsheet, and because estimates of standard errors are truly a pain to compute in a spreadsheet (unless you use PopTools). I've also had papers rejected because a reviewer claimed "You can't do that in a spreadsheet!"

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What if my macro doesn't work?

If you can't get the bootstrap to run, here's what you should try first: Go to Tools | Macro | Macros | Bootstrap | Edit. Then, with the Visual Basic module active, click References on the Tools menu, and then select the Solver.xla check box under Available References. If Solver.xla doesn't appear under Available References, click Browse and open Solver.xla in the \Office\Library\Solver\ subfolder.

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Who is Terri Donovan?

Terri Donovan (formally, Therese) is the Assistant Unit Leader for the Vermont Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit. She was first introduced to spreadsheet modeling by Rollie Lamberson (Humboldt State University), and later developed two books (with Charles Welden) on using spreadsheets to teach basic concepts in ecology, evolution, and conservation biology. Currently, she is working on three e-books that teach quantitative methods in these fields. Terri's research interests are broad and center on the impacts of land use change on biodiversity (e.g., habitat fragmentation and loss), as well as research targeted towards species of high conservation priority in the state of Vermont.

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What is the Vermont Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit Spreadsheet Project?

The Vermont Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit is part of the U.S. Geological Survey's Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units program. There are 40 units across the U.S. The Vermont Unit is home to two scientists (Donna Parrish, Unit Leader-Fisheries) and Terri Donovan (Assistant Unit Leader - Wildlife). Unit scientists work with the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife to address research problems of interest to the state. Our work primarily involves training graduate students at the University of Vermont's Rubenstein's School of Environment and Natural Resources to address key research needs. It's a great program!

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When are the Sinauer books going to become available as part of the Spreadsheet Project?

Good news! You can now get pdf files directly from the Spreadsheet Project website. Each module consists of instructions for putting together a spreadsheet, a spreadsheet shell that contains column headings, etc. so you can focus your energy on entering equations rather than headings, a completed spreadsheet, and answers to questions. If you want one of the original books, you can buy them on eBay but they cost a lot!

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Don't only sissies use spreadsheets?

Some scientists really hate spreadsheets. But the truth is that they are a GREAT way to teach students how to think through ecological or analytical problems. I have taught many courses in the past few years and started with "canned" educational programs, where students press buttons, run a simulation, and generate results. I switched to spreadsheets when I realized that very few students could tell me how the results were generated or what they mean. I've seen students be converted from math-phobics to hard-core modelers when they are engaged in entering equations and developing their own models.

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What other options are there for modeling software?

There are many, many options for modeling ecological processes. If you need to solve equations analytically, you can use dedicated mathematical program such as MatLab or Mathematica. Many students like graphically oriented modeling software, such as Stella or Simile. The graphics in these programs allow students to see how different pieces of a model are connected to each other. Remember.....programs are tools. Modeling is about thinking through problems and how to represent the key components mathematically. Sometimes you really only need a spreadsheet!

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Should I use Excel as a database?

In general, no. If you have a very small amount of data to work with, you can probably get away with using a spreadsheet. However, in most cases you'll want to use a regular database (like Access or other database program...there are many to choose from).

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Should I use Excel for statistical analysis?

No. Excel is fine for simple statistics like means, totals, etc.But more complicated routines require a dedicated statistical software package, like SAS, R, SPLUS, etc. If you must use Excel, check out uses Excel as a front end application and R as the stats engine.

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Last modified August 31 2010 11:23 AM

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