The course focuses on modelling as a convenient tool for the study of ecological dynamics, i.e., the interplay between organisms and their environment. The main emphasis is put on the understanding of the role of the dynamics of environmental factors and organisms in changing ecological processes, as well as on the analysis and solution to current ecological issues, such as the conservation of populations, sustainable harvesting and the regulation of ecosystem processes. The teaching methodology is problem-oriented, research-based and learner-centered. Course participants develop published models with the help of a common software, under the guidance of course instructors. The concepts, techniques and practical tasks are all discussed in working groups during seminars.
The course includes the following parts:
Section 1, Methods, principles and concepts in ecological dynamics; 7.5 ECTS
This part gives a solid background in population and community theory from a process oriented, dynamic perspective. The focus is on how interactions between organisms drive the dynamics of ecological systems through feedbacks among various processes - often with unexpected results. The focus of this section is on the dynamics of interspecific interactions such as predation and competition and on how these interactions influence the coexistence of species, the size and stability of populations, as well as the flows of energy and matter through ecosystems. This section gives a thorough introduction to how models are constructed and analysed. This includes exercises in how biological assumptions translate into mathematical models and how the models are subsequently programmed and numerically analysed in Matlab. Matlab is a modelling software with widespread use in both research and the non-academic sector.
Section 2, Research project; 7.5 ECTS
In this part, the students develop their own research project, starting from a published scientific article that models a natural system in order to address questions of practical and theoretical importance. This work is of research-like character, because it aims to expand on the published model. In a first step, the main questions of the article must be described and the published model will be coded up in the modelling software in order to reproduce the results. In addition, the project includes the formulation of one or more new questions, literature search, model formulation and analysis, critical evaluation of results, and the writing of a formal essay. The work is also presented orally.