SSC Award for Impact of Applied and Collaborative Work 2024

Joanna Mills Flemming
SSC Award for Impact of Applied and Collaborative Work

The Impact Award recognizes outstanding contributions by SSC members in collaborative research and applied work, the importance of which derives primarily from its relatively recent impact on a subject area outside of the statistical sciences, on an area of application, or on an organization. The award can be for published collaborative research, for collaboration in applied work (whether published or not) or, more generally, for the impact of a statistician on an organization (e.g., a company or a government agency) or a subject area through their collaborative or applied work.

Joanna Mills Flemming received a B.Sc. with distinction in Mathematics, Statistics, and Computer Science in 1995 from the University of Guelph. She later completed an M.Sc. in Applied Mathematics in 1997 from the Technical University of Nova Scotia (now Dalhousie University) and only three years later in 2000 earned a PhD in Statistics also from Dalhousie University. Following her PhD, she was a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Economics at the University of Geneva. In 2004, she returned to Dalhousie University and currently is a Full Professor in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics. 

Joanna’s research program focuses on developing statistical models to answer important scientific questions related to marine conservation and management, but the methods she develops are broadly applicable. Her research uses the increasingly large amounts of complex ecological data being collected each year in the marine environment and capitalizes on many new data sources due to technological developments such as satellite imagery, telemetry tags, and acoustic sensors. Some of the data sets are derived from rapidly advancing digital technologies (e.g., GPS for marine animal tracking) and others from citizen science efforts (e.g., summer jellyfish sightings on Nova Scotia beaches).  The important questions that accompany these advancements require statistical models that can simultaneously capture dependencies in both space and time. 

Joanna’s recent work includes projects that focus on integrating high-resolution seafloor mapping data to achieve sustainable harvest strategies for Canadian shellfish. Atlantic Canada's commercial fishery is built primarily from benthic shellfish, valued at over $3 billion in 2019. Indeed, the ocean is an integral part of Canada's culture, environment, public health, and economy; the ocean economy employs more than 315,000 Canadians and contributes more than \$26 billion of gross domestic product (GDP) each year. The importance of incorporating spatial information into the assessment and management of these shellfish populations has long been recognized. Density distributions of benthic shellfish stocks can be relatively well represented by seafloor habitat maps. These maps, combined with geospatial fisheries data, have tremendous potential to improve our understanding of the spatial patterns and complexities of shellfish population dynamics and responses to fishing. One important aim of this work is to devise more sustainable harvest strategies for benthic shellfish (and other) species by incorporating new knowledge of spatio-temporal variability in recovery and other relevant processes. This will directly contribute to the additional demands for fisheries science under the new Fish Stocks Provisions of the Fisheries Act (Formally Bill C-68).

The long-term objective of Joanna’s research is to continually make statistical methods available and to provide support related to computational tools that ensure Canada can steward its ocean resources with care. Joanna’s efforts and impact in the area were recognized early on by her peers, as she was the recipient of the 2013 Abdel El-Shaarawi Young Researcher's Award from the International Environmetrics Society. This prestigious award recognized her distinguished contributions to the development of novel statistical methodology to study marine biodiversity and sustainability and to bridge the interdisciplinary gap between oceanography, marine biology, and modern statistical science. Joanna is frequently invited to speak about her research at national and international conferences and academic meetings, with these efforts also serving to generate new collaborations with other disciplines. 

Joanna is passionate about service to her academic field and the scientific community. She recently led the creation of a regional node of the Canadian Statistical Sciences Institute (CANSSI), developed a new research and training program for Atlantic Canada coined the Atlantic Canada Climate Research Collaboration, along with serving as co-organizer of the 2023 CANSSI Atlantic/ Ocean Frontier Institute (OFI) Early Career Researcher Workshop. She also recently championed the creation of the Statistical Ecology at Dal (SEaDAL) Laboratory at Dalhousie University. This initiative brings together researchers from various disciplines to develop statistical methods for ecology. This highly collaborative and interdisciplinary team develops flexible approaches to help scientists and policymakers formulate research questions, design studies and data collection, assess modelling assumptions, and make decisions in the face of uncertainty. 

Joanna lives with her husband and three children in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Joanna cares deeply about her graduate students and was delighted to attend one of their weddings this past summer, while celebrating the successes of another with a peaceful walk in the park. She is an avid runner and ran the Boston Marathon in April of 2024.

The citation for the award reads: 

"To Joanna Mills Flemming, for her pioneering work on state-space modelling in marine ecology and fisheries science, for her efforts to foster collaborations between statisticians and marine scientists in Canada and globally, and for her leadership in the statistical ecology community."