CSA-20806 Population and Systems Ecology

This Study Handbook is published with reservation. It is not official yet.


Credits 6.00

Teaching methodContact hours
Course coordinator(s)dr. ir. W van der Werf
dr. J van Ruijven
drs. CA Langeveld
Lecturer(s)dr. ir. MMPD Heijmans
dr. J van Ruijven
JC Douma
dr. ir. LAJ Nagelkerke
prof. dr. ir. MCM de Jong
dr. ir. W van der Werf
drs. CA Langeveld
dr. EH Poelman
prof. dr. NPR Anten
dr. P Vergeer
Examiner(s)dr. ir. W van der Werf
dr. J van Ruijven

Language of instruction:


Assumed knowledge on:

- PEN-10503 Ecology I;
- PEN-20503 Ecology II;
- EZO-23306 Modelling Biological Systems.

Continuation courses:

CSA-34306 Ecological Modelling and Data Analysis in R;
PEN-22303 Ecology of Communities, Ecosystems and Landscapes- Field Excursions;
PEN-30306 Field Course Vegetation Science and Systems Ecology;
PPS-20306 Systems Analysis, Simulation and Systems Management.


The course Population and Systems Ecology teaches basic concepts in Population, Community, Ecosystem and Landscape Ecology. The course takes a quantitative approach, grounded in basic models for population, community and ecosystem processes. Subject matter includes life tables, Leslie matrices, non-linear difference equations, systems of non-linear differential or difference equations for species interactions, etc. We emphasize development of insight in the dynamics of ecological systems and models, development of quantitative skills in analyzing ecological models using pencil and paper, and ability to critically evaluate predictions from interpret models in relation to real world phenomena. Applications are drawn from, e.g., nature conservation, fisheries biology, and the dynamics of infectious diseases.

Learning outcomes:

After successful completion of this course students are expected to be able to:
- state the founding principles of basic ecological models, and explain the meaning and units of variables and parameters;
- explain the relationship between basic structure elements of population systems (e.g. unlimited resources versus resource limitation, feedbacks, predatory or competitive species interactions, spatial spread), and the resulting dynamics;
- calculate the dominant eigenvalue, eigenvector, and sensitivities and elasticities of a Leslie matrix model, using pencil and paper, and interpret these mathematical results in terms of the associated real world phenomena;
- calculate equilibria and isoclines in 2 species dynamic systems, and graphically analyse stability;
- apply simple mathematics on general ecological principles such as species-area relationships, competition, meta-population theory and nutrient cycling illustrate species adaptations to environmental conditions and their feedbacks to ecological processes at the level of communities, ecosystems and landscapes;
- interpret life history traits and predator search strategies in terms of fitness and evolutionary selection pressures;
- illustrate threats to biodiversity using ecological theory, and describe and explain the consequences for ecosystem functioning and the ecological background of nature management, natural resource management and nature policy.


- lectures (35 hours) on concepts, theory and case studies;
- tutorials (43 hours) with additional theory (self-study;
- pen and paper exercises, and computer simulations).


Examination is by means of a written exam with open questions and exercises. The mark is completely determined in the exam.
The minimum mark is 5.5.


- Princeton Guide to Ecology (Simon A. Levin Ed., 2009). ISBN 978-0-691-12839-9. The book can be obtained from the WUR-shop or read online through the electronic library of WUR.
- Workbook Population and Systems Ecology. The workbook can be obtained from the WUR-shop or downloaded from Brightspace.
Theory and concepts from the book will be presented in the lectures. Furthermore, several in depth case studies are presented. Further elaboration of theory and exercises will be presented in the workbook. During tutorials, students work independently through the theory and exercises in the workbook, supported by teaching assistants. Solutions to problems will be provided electronically and discussed in class as needed.

Compulsory for: BBIBiologyBScD: Spec. D - Ecology4WD