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Research PhD courses

Mathematical Models in Ecology and Evolution


Prof. Ido Pen (Theoretical Biology, RUG)

Aim of the course

The aims of the course are to teach why mathematics is so useful in ecology and evolution, to acquire the ability to read and interpret equations, and to master the art of constructing and analyzing new models.

At the end of the course, the student is able to:
1. translate between verbal or written descriptions of biological systems and the corresponding mathematical models of the biological systems.
2. critically assess the simplifying assumptions implicit in mathematical models of biological systems.
3. analyze the dynamical and stability properties of mathematical models of biological systems, using a combination of pencil and paper and computer modelling software.
4. translate mathematical properties of models into relevant biological conclusions and how the conclusions are affected by specific model assumptions.

Contents & Structure

Mathematical models have become an indispensable tool in ecology and evolutionary biology, to the point that aspiring scientists in these fields must have a working knowledge of basic mathematical modeling techniques. This course teaches such techniques practically from scratch, without requiring much background knowledge except elementary high school algebra and a little calculus. If successful, it will allow the students to understand papers that contain models, to develop new models to explore their own ideas, and to generate and use models for analysis and interpretation of data. Students are required to study one book chapter per week and to do several exercises for hands-on experience. Some exercises are of the pencil-and-paper variety, but others require the help of computer-aided mathematical tools such as Maple, Mathematica and/or R, which the student will learn how to use during the course. One afternoon per week, participants meet with a teacher for demonstration and discussion.

  • Prof. Ido Pen
  • Prof. Franjo Weissing
  • Dr. Sander van Doorn
General Information
Required knowledge & preparation
Students are each week required to study a chapter of the book by Otto & Day.
Course material
Otto, S. & Day, T. (2007). A Biologist’s Guide to Mathematical Modelling in Ecology and Evolution. Princeton University Press. ISBN13: 978-0-691-12344-8. (€ 45,-)
Course credits
Discussions will be held online initially, possibly also at  Zernike Campus, Groningen.
Duration & date
The course will run from 18-03-2024 till 30-06-2024. There will be generally be a discussion meeting once a week; otherwise self-study.
The course fee for participating PhD students is currently set at € 275,-
The number of participants is limited to 20.
Ido Pen, Linnaeusborg, Nijenborgh 7, 9747 AG Groningen, email:
Master students: please register through the Ocasys portal. PhD students: before registering for this course, students are asked to contact Ido Pen to determine if they are eligible for the course (send a cc to Corine Eising). If eligible, fill in the registration form (will follow).
Last modified:14 April 2023 11.56 a.m.