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Structures and Dynamics of Ecological Systems




Admission Requirements

Similarly tagged 200-level and 300-level courses. Students that do not meet this prerequisite should contact the instructor regarding the required competencies before course allocation.


Ecosystems are complex systems that contain many different species, with different types of interactions. Also, there are material and energy flows through the system, that are related to these interactions. Because of this complexity, mathematical models have been applied to study ecosystem dynamics already for a long time. With new technological development, these models become more and more complex. It is important to be aware, though, of their fundamental building blocks, and some basic features of ecosystem dynamics, before going into the more complex models. This
course will follow such a build-up, starting with relatively simple models and their main results, and then generalizing to more complex models and dynamics. Some of the subjects that we will consider are food webs, development of ecosystems, and causes and effects of biodiversity in ecosystems.

Course Objectives

The course provides you with background knowledge of models and their use in studying ecosystems. Furthermore, you will gain proficiency in:

  • The use of numerical and analytical modelling tools

  • Design, adjustment, and refinement of models;

  • Model analysis, and derivation of predictions based on the results;

  • Critical model evaluation.

Mode of Instruction

Sessions will consist of short lectures, student presentations, and in-class assignments. Class sample assignments will be used to illustrate and practice modelling design, analysis, and evaluation. The work mode will vary, from working individually, in pairs, or in groups, to whole-class collaboration. You will be required to prepare presentations and write short reports throughout the course, and to keep a concise journal with weekly updates on what you have learned.


Assessment: Weekly presentations and discussions
Percentage: 40%
Deadline: Weeks 1-7 (Fridays at 17:00)

Assessment: Portfolio of results of weekly assignments, and journal.
Percentage: 40%
Deadline: Week 8 (Monday at 17:00)

Assessment: Written exam
Percentage: 20%
Deadline: Week 8 (Friday at 17:00)


Required (please order well in advance)

Mathematical Ecology of Populations and Ecosystems
John Pastor 2008
Paperback version

ISBN10: 1405177950
ISBN13: 9781405177955

Contact Information


Weekly Overview

Week 1: introduction
Week 2: population dynamics
Week 3: interactions and food webs
Week 4: inorganic resources
Week 5: litter and nutrient cycling
Week 6: stochiometry
Week 7: spatiotemporal dynamics
Week 8: exam.

Preparation for first session

Go to http://cran.r-project.org/
Install R on your laptop according to the instructions given there

On that same website, go to Documentation and
Download and study ‘R for beginners’ (under: contributed)
Download and glance through the manual ‘An introduction to R’ (under: manuals)

Got to http://www.rstudio.org/
Install Rstudio on your laptop according to the instructions given there and look through the documentation on how to use it.

Read through part 1 of the study book (i.e. chapters 1 and 2).