Mathematical Biology @ Stellenbosch

Why do we do what we do? Curiosity (02:08)


Excerpts from the Preface of Ecological and Evolutionary Modelling (Hui et al. 2018 Springer)

Ecology is the scientific study of the abundance and distribution of species, the interactions among organisms and feedback from their environments, and was known in previous decades as natural history. It concerns the fluctuation and entanglement of genes, populations, species and ecosystems, from a single pond to the entire planet. The philosophy of ecology runs deep in the veins of human civilisation, which has tried to identify humanity’s position and role in nature,… Facing an unprecedented rate of biodiversity loss, we need to ponder upon the origin, function and adaptive changes of biodiversity – to date still the only known whole living system. Erwin Schrödinger asks, what is life? The functioning of adaptive, complex, living systems requires a grand framework to define it…. As the stewards of nature, contemporary ecologists are facing mounting challenges to ensure crucial ecosystem services through biodiversity monitoring and conservation, by sustaining interactions and feedback among multiple components and processes that foster species persistence and coexistence. Supported by Big Data from field surveys and laboratory experiments, from Earth observation systems and molecular biology advancement, and empowered by striking computational power, ecological modellers are now for the first time able to weave the threads of our knowledge with data into models across a grand range of scales and complexities, enabling true comprehension and valuable forecasts. This calls for many talented scholars to join forces and take on the global endeavour of ecological modelling and biodiversity informatics…. Mathematics is the most beautiful conjecture and the most powerful tool born of human ingenuity. It is without doubt that mathematical minds have worked throughout the early conceptualisation and later development of ecological theories. However, the walls between disciplines have hampered the flourish of this inter- and transdisciplinary field. Mathematicians often have vague concepts of ecology and evolution, while ecologists are becoming increasingly aware of the need for mathematical and quantitative methodologies in their research. As such, we introduce in this book a set of key concepts and modelling techniques in ecology and evolution. Topics covered in this book are by no means complete, but we hope they can serve as bridges to bring the possibilities of mathematics and ecology together. We hope that readers will consider not only the essential concepts in ecology and evolution but also the various standard mathematical and numerical tools used for exploration. To this end, the book can be considered an ensemble of selected topics to facilitate both ecological understanding and mathematical implementation. Due to the contextual dependence of ecological systems, we hope that like-minded scholars can learn the philosophy and procedure for model formulation, eventually to derive their own models for related systems. Let it be a hitchhiker’s guide to both fields.

Note to prospective students: As our research is interdisciplinary in nature, our students and postdocs are from a diverse array of backgrounds with a wide range of expertise. We will tailor and fine tune your project along a few research focuses on biodiversity informatics, ecological and evolutionary modelling, invasion science and global change biology, as well as complex adaptive networks. Go to the Opportunity page to find out more on bursaries/fellowships and how to apply.