Modelling in Biology 5 c

Level: Advanced level
Course code: 1BG383
Credits: 5 c
More information: Course syllabus
Student portal: Schedule and course material


This is a part time evening course. A suggested combination is this course together with a project work of 10 or 15 credits. This will give you a chance to think about how to apply modelling in your own research. 

A brief look in any of the leading journals in ecology and evolution quickly reveals that mathematical models are ubiquitous in these fields. However, mathematical models are not only an integral part of fundamental research but also important in applied fields such as nature conservation, fisheries management and epidemiology. There is a clear trend for biology to become a more exact science and the increased use of mathematical models is the signature of this development.

Many questions in ecology and evolution can be phrased in the language of dynamical systems: How does the number of individuals in a population change over time and how is this change affected by the presence of predators or by human activities such as conservation measures or harvesting? To what extent can we expect that the egg laying date of a migrating bird species evolves under climate change? Under what conditions can an allele providing increased resistance to antibiotics increase in frequency? Mathematics is the obvious tool to answer questions that are formulated in this manner.

Models can serve different purposes. They can be used to make exact quantitative predictions (What is the maximum amount of fish we can harvest before a fish stock collapses?) or they can be used as thinking tools that help us to understand biological concepts (Which factors favour speciation?) or let us create hypotheses that can subsequently be tested experimentally (Do changes in adult mortality affect the evolution of maturation age?).

In this course, you will learn the necessary steps to build, analyse and interpret mathematical models that are motivated by questions from ecology and evolution. Furthermore, you will acquire an in-depth understanding of some of the classical models in these fields. The course consists of lectures, home assignments and tutorials. Home assignments are a crucial part of the course because one can learn modelling only by doing it. The home assignments consist of problems that can be solved with paper and pencil and of problems for which mathematical software packages are necessary. The results form the home assignments will be discussed in the tutorial classes.

Bifurcation diagram
A bifurcation diagram for the logistic model. The figure is taken from the course book “A Biologist’s Guide to Mathematical Modelling in Ecology and Evolution”.

For more information, please contact:
Claus Rüffler (claus.rueffler@ebc.uu.se)