CSA-20806 Population and Systems Ecology

Code last year: (CWE-22306)


Credits 6.00

Teaching methodContact hours
Course coordinator(s)dr. ir. W van der Werf
dr. J van Ruijven
ing. H Drenth
Lecturer(s)dr. ir. W van der Werf
AHM van Opheusden
dr. PW de Jong
drs. CA Langeveld
dr. J van Ruijven
dr. ir. MMPD Heijmans
dr. EH Poelman
Examiner(s)dr. ir. W van der Werf
prof. dr. RF Hoekstra
dr. PW de Jong
dr. J van Ruijven

Language of instruction:

Dutch (Population ecology) and English (Systems ecology)

Assumed knowledge on:

NCP-10503 Ecology I, NCP-20503 Ecology II, PPS-21306 Modelling Biological Systems

Continuation courses:

NCP-30306 Field Course Vegetation Science and Systems Ecology, NCP-22303 Ecology of Communities, Ecosystems and Landscapes - Field Excursions, MAT-31306 Models of Biological Processes and Environmental Quality, CSA-50306 Ecological models and data in R, PPS-20306 Systems Analysis, Simulation and Systems Management


The course Population and Systems Ecology teaches basic concepts in Population, Community and Systems 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. Emphasis is placed on the development of fundamental insight in basic ecological systems and models, the development of quantitative skills in analyzing ecological models using pencil and paper, and ability to critically interpret outcomes of model simulations in relation to real world phenomena. Applications are drawn from, e.g. nature conservation, fisheries biology, or the dynamics of infectious diseases.

Learning outcomes:

- students can verbally explain the founding principles of basic ecological models, and indicate the meaning of variables and parameters;
- students understand 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;
- students can calculate the dominant eigenvalue, eigenvector, and sensitivities and elasticities from a leslie matrix model, using pencil and paper, and they can interpret these mathematical results in terms of real world phenomena;
- students can calculate equilibria and isoclines in 2 species dynamic systems, and graphically analyse stability - students can make calculations on species-area relationships, diversity indices, competition systems, metapopulations and nutrient cycling;
- students demonstrate a detailed understanding of how species are adapted to environmental conditions and how species traits influence ecosystem functioning. ;
- students can interpret life history traits and predator search strategies in terms of fitness and evolutionary selection pressures;
- students can illustrate threats to biodiversity using general ecological theory, and describe and explain the ecological background of nature management, natural resources management and nature policy.


- lectures (6 hours/week) on concepts and theory;
- lectures on case studies (5 hours) ;
- tutorials with pen and paper exercises (4-8 hours/week) ;
- tutorials with computer models (10 hours) ;
- three take home assignments (compulsory).


Written exam with pen and paper exercises (3/4 of mark) and take home assignments (1/4 of mark).


W. van der Werf, L.E.M. Vet, C.A. Langeveld: Reader Populatie and Systeemecologie Populaties, en F. Berendse, J. van Ruijven, M.M.P.D. Heijmans: Reader Population- and Systems Ecology Communities, Ecosystems & Landscapes. WUR-shop.

Compulsory for: BBIBiologyBScD: Ecology and Biodiversity4WD
Compulsory for: WUBDVBSc Minor Biodiversity: from Micro to Macro and from Cause to Consequence4WD