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Research PhD courses

Theoretical Ecology


Prof.dr. F.J. Weissing (Theoretical Biology, RUG)

Dr. C.M. Eising (RSEE, RUG)

This course will be held in its current format one last time in February 2015!!

Aim of the course

The course aims at making the participants conversant with approaches to ecological and evolutionary models beyond those found in the textbooks. The stress is on generalities, as opposed to the construction of simulation models purportedly mimicking concrete empirical cases. The work of theoretical groups in the Netherlands serves as an anchoring point. This is possible since through historical accident these groups rather nicely cover a full gamut of approaches.

Contents & Structure

The first session treats the philosophy of exploring ecological and evolutionary phenomena through the use of mini-models. This session also functions as a refresher of the prerequisites. The remainder of the course concentrates on models that allow incorporating more biological detail. These models are more complicated but still sufficiently simple to be treated on a relatively general level.

Sessions two and three consider the step from the individual to the population level and back. Session two stresses physiological processes as well as energy and mass balances. Session three deals with various mathematical techniques for stepping from individual to population behaviour, and from there to the evolution of traits of those individuals, ending with a discussion of the mathematical principle underlying ecological diversification.

The fourth and fifth session address the implications of biological organisation (spatial structure, genetic architecture, the mechanisms underlying physiological processes or behaviour) for ecology and evolution. In session four, we will discuss how the "architecture" of organisms (e.g. the system of sex determination or the structure of gene regulatory networks) evolve in response to environmental conditions and how, in turn, this architecture affects the evolutionary response to environmental change. The models treated in this session are relatively simple and (at least to some extent) amenable to mathematical analysis. The fifth sessioan treats models that are more realistic in that they incorporate more degrees of freedom and more spatial and/or mechanistic complexity. These models are not easily amenable to mathematical treatment, but computer simulations reveal an (often surprising) richness of phenomena.

Required Knowledge & Preparation

It is assumed that all participants have had at least some previous exposure to ecological modeling. Please submit a short email to the course organizer, Prof. Weissing, detailing your familiarity with theoretical ecology, DEB, modeling etc.

To prepare for the course, we strongly urge all participants to refresh their knowledge. To this end, we recommend any of the following books:

- P. Yodzis (1989): Introduction to Theoretical Ecology. Harpercollins.

- M. Bulmer (1994): Theoretical Evolutionary Ecology. Sinauer.

- W.S.C. Gurney & R. Nisbet (1998): Ecological Dynamics. Oxford Univ. Press.

- T.J. Case (2000): An Illustrated Guide to Theoretical Ecology. Oxford Univ. Press.

- P. Turchin (2003): Complex Population Dynamics. Princeton Univ. Press.

- S. Otto & T. Day (2007) A Biologist's Guide to Mathematical Modeling in Ecology and Evolution.Princeton Univ. Press.

The books of Yodzis and Bulmer are out of print, but they can probably be found in your local library. A scanned version of the first may be downloaded from this website: . If you have problems with the conceptual and/or mathematical level of these books, we shall gladly offer some guidance by a tutor from among our lecturers. With the help of this tutor you can remedy that situation during December by studying the book of Case, which is particularly suited for self-study.

Course Material

The course material, practical information and route descriptions can be found on this website. This site is regularly updated, and the material on it can only be considered complete shortly before the start of the course.

NB: The course material for Session 2 only gives a conceptual introduction to the theory of Dynamic Energy Budgets (DEB). The theory is fully presented in:- S.A.L.M. Kooijman (2009): Dynamic Energy Budget Theory for Metabolic Organisation (3rd Edition) Cambridge Univ. Press. Supplementary information on DEB can be found here

Course Credits


Preliminary Programme and topics (may be subject to change).

All days will in principle start at 10.00 and end at 17.00 hours. However, the precise time and location of the various sessions may in due time be found on this website.

1. Friday, Jan 30:Mini models (inspired by the book of Case or others)

Host: Prof. Dr. Rob J. de Boer
Location: Room 106, Buys Ballot building, Princetonplein 5, de Uithof, Utrecht (bus 12 or 12S from centraal station Utrecht)

Course contents:Click here

2. Monday, Feb 2:Metabolic organization at the ecological level

Host: Prof. Dr. S.A.L.M. Kooijman
Location: Room T550 , W&N Building , Vrije Universiteit, de Boelelaan 1081, Amsterdam
Course contents:Click here

3. Monday, Feb 9:Physiologically structured populations and adaptive dynamics

Host: Prof.Dr. J.A.J. Metz

Location: Room 15.03, Sylvius Laboratorium, Sylviusweg (Wassenaarse weg) 72, 2333BE Leiden
Directions: See map. The lecture theatre is on the first floor, at the right hand side of the corridor behind the first door to the right when you come from the stairs..
Course contents: Click here

4. Monday, Feb 16: Evolutionary causes and consequences of biological organization

Host: Prof. Dr. F.J. Weissing, other lecturers: Prof.Dr. I.R. Pen en Dr. G.S.van Doorn

Location: Room 880 (Building 5173), Linnaeusborg, Nijenborgh 7, 9747 AG Groningen
Theoretical Biology RUG, University of Groningen, Nijenborgh 7, 9747 AG Groningen
Course contents: Click here

5. Friday, Feb, 20:Spatial eco-evolutionary processes

(possibly followed by a general discussion, if deemed expedient)

Host: Prof. Dr. P. Hogeweg

Location: in the morning Room 307 of the Kruyt (Oost) Building, Padualaan 8, de Uithof; in the afternoon Room 112 of the Buys Ballot building, Princetonplein 5, de Uithof, Utrecht (bus 12 or 12S from centraal station Utrecht)
Course contents: Click here


Travel costs only. There is currently no course fee.  

Optional: book by Case (ca € 40,-), book by Kooijman (ca € 45,-).


Practical information: Dr. Corine Eising (Research School Ecology and Evolution, Phone: 0031 (0) 50 363 9140,E-mail: c.m.eising)

Addresses of lecturers

Prof.dr. R.J. de Boer (Rob)                                 Prof.dr. S.A.L.M. Kooijman (Bas)

Theoretische Biologie UU                                  Biologisch Lab. VUA

Padualaan 8, Utrecht                                        De Boelelaan 1087, Amsterdam

phone: 030-2537560                                        phone: 020-5987130

r.j.deboer                                                bas

Prof.dr. J.A.J. Metz (Hans)                                  Prof. dr F.J. Weissing (Franjo)

Mathematisch Instituut Leiden                          Theoretische Biologie RUG

Niels Bohrweg 1, Leiden                                    Linnaeusborg

phone: 010-4297995/06 -53 44 84 50               Nijenborgh 7, Groningen

j.a.j.metz                        phone: 050-3632131


Prof.dr. P. Hogeweg (Paulien)

Theoretische Biologie UU

Padualaan 8, Utrecht

phone: 030-2533692



To register for the course, please fill out the registration form. The deadline for registration is 1 January 2015. Please also send an email with full name, work address, telephone number(s) and e-mail address (for last minute announcements) to Corine Eising, so that an address list based on this information may be distributed among the participants.

Last modified:17 June 2019 5.09 p.m.