BIOL336-21S1 (C) Semester One 2021

Ecological and Evolutionary Models

15 points

Start Date: Monday, 22 February 2021
End Date: Sunday, 27 June 2021
Withdrawal Dates
Last Day to withdraw from this course:
  • Without financial penalty (full fee refund): Sunday, 7 March 2021
  • Without academic penalty (including no fee refund): Friday, 14 May 2021


Introduction to key ecological and evolutionary models. The course introduces how to solve basic mathematical models and how to use computational tools to explore their solutions. Students learn how to create simple models to understand how complex, real-world processes unfold.

The general aim of the course is to introduce you to the major concepts in developing theoretical biological models. This is achieved by examining key ecological and evolutionary models. The central focus is on understanding, creating, and analyzing basic biological models. We will highlight the importance of theoretical modelling to the fields of ecology and evolution and help you develop key computational and mathematical skills.

An understanding of basic ecological and evolutionary principles is assumed. If at any stage
you feel that you do not understand the assumed basics, refer to the general reference
materials listed below or seek help from the lecturer concerned as soon as possible.

Learning Outcomes

Intended Learning Outcomes and Associated Assessment
As a student in this course, I will develop the ability to:
● Clearly understand the basic techniques in building theoretical models.
● Understand mathematical models and their applications to ecology and evolution.
● Demonstrate proficiency in analyzing mathematical models.
● Develop new models that reduce complex biological realities to a manageable
● Synthesise outcomes of mathematical models to clearly communicate their meaning and
their relevance in a biological context.

Transferable Skills Register
As a student in this course, I will develop the following skills:
● Understand theoretical models presented in research papers. This skill is invaluable for
students pursuing further academic study, but is also a form of problem solving that is
applicable to daily live.
● Ability to build and analyze a mathematical model. This ability is a useful way of taking a
complicated world (or problem) and turning it into a manageable representation that can
be solved with the skills in your toolbox. This way of approaching problems will be
broadly applicable to most professional careers.
● Basic modeling skills in R. The development of these computational skills will be useful
to anyone pursuing a career in science and technology.
● Preparing an oral presentation on findings. Clear written communication of complex problems is essential for most professional careers.


BIOL209 or 15 Points of 200-level COSC or DATA or EMTH or ENCE or PHYS or MATH or STAT. RP: BIOL270, BIOL271 or BIOL274

Recommended Preparation

BIOL270, BIOL271 or BIOL274

Timetable Note

Lectures will be held during the first 8 weeks of the semester, during which we will have two 2-hour lectures per week. During this time we will have a mix of whiteboard lectures and computer work.

Project tutorials will be organised for the final 4 weeks of the semester and will last 1 hour each. These sessions have been included to provide students with an opportunity for structured time to work on their Research Project. They are optional but we highly recommend that students make use of this time to take advantage of our help. During the last week of the semester, there will also be a Presentation tutorial during which students will give oral presentations about their Research Project.
Students should note that students are responsible for 10 hours of study per credit point – this equates to approximately an average of 9-10 hours of additional study for week of the course at the 300-level. In this course, we expect students to require fewer out-of-class hours during the first 8 weeks but students will spend much more time working outside of class during final four weeks while working on their project.

The research project is a key component of this course. We will provide a list of papers presenting evolutionary or ecological models as applied to a relevant biological example. For the project, you will choose one of the provided models, dedicate yourself to understanding the assumptions and mathematics of that model, and determine a reasonable biological component that could be added to it. You will then give a short presentation to the lecturers and rest of the class leveraging the mathematical and computational skills learned during the first 8 weeks of the course. This will likely include things such as plots of different model components, simulations of the model dynamics, reproduction of findings from the original study, etc. You will also submit R code developed during your analysis of the model for assessment.

Course Coordinator / Lecturer

Daniel Stouffer


Sarah Flanagan


Assessment Due Date Percentage  Description
Quizzes 30% Weekly administered via Learn
Mid-course Test 12 May 2021 40% Online access via Learn from 5pm Tuesday, 11 May, to 5pm Wednesday, 12 May
Research Project & Presentation ( Final Exam) 02 Jun 2021 30% Date pending final timetable

Textbooks / Resources

We do not expect you to purchase a textbook, but we recommend accessing the suggested book through the library. During the course you will be directed to additional books and to primary scientific papers. This allows us to include in this course the most current scientific knowledge available, and to provide greater breadth than would be found in a single textbook. To do well on the mid-semester test, you must show evidence that you have read and understood this material.

Suggested book: A Biologist’s Guide to Mathematical Modeling in Ecology and Evolution by Sarah P. Otto and Troy Day. A hardcopy and e-book of this text are currently available in the library.

Resources used or referred to in lectures will be available on-line on the course link in Learn.
Quizzes will be on LEARN. Please also note that we will occasionally be requesting that you submit written work in both hard copy (for grading) and in electronic form (for assessment of originality using “Turnitin”). Instructions will be given on how you do this via Learn.

Course links

Course outline

Indicative Fees

Domestic fee $910.00

International fee $4,438.00

* All fees are inclusive of NZ GST or any equivalent overseas tax, and do not include any programme level discount or additional course-related expenses.

For further information see School of Biological Sciences .

All BIOL336 Occurrences

  • BIOL336-21S1 (C) Semester One 2021