Ecosystem Modelling


Course Objective

Students will be able to:
- Write, run and validate a simple computer program
- Critically investigate and evaluate the assumptions underlying
numerical models
- Apply different techniques used in numerical modelling for answering
ecological and environmental questions.

Course Content

Where science unravels more and more physiological, physical and
ecological processes, models can help to synthesize this knowledge in a
consistent numerical framework. Also, when field experiments are
impossible, unethical or excessively expensive, simulation experiments
can be used to forecast the outcome of different treatments or climate
scenarios. This course will introduce the different usages of numerical
models. The basic tools of the trade will be introduced and implemented
during supervised computer-based exercises. Moreover, a challenging
simulating self-organisation of vegetation in
arid regions will be built. The course builds on
ecological, physical and mathematical knowledge and skills obtained
during the BSc years to construct new skills: basic computer
programming, numerical modelling and critical thinking in the context of
numerical models.

Teaching Methods

The course consists of 7 hours of lectures and 52 hours of supervised
computer-based exercise classes. An additional 100 hours of unsupervised
study is required to complete the exercises. The course Ecological
Modelling accounts for 6ECTS.
The lectures address:
Overview of the main ecosystem models (week 1)
Basics of computer programming (week 1-3)
Developing a spatially explicit ecological model
(week 4-8)

Method of Assessment

The spatially explicit ecological model and its presentation will be
graded to make up the final grade: 8 points for the spatially explicit
model simulating self-organisation of vegetation in drylands (8 points)
and 2 points for the
presentation of the model and its results.

The exercise should be handed in before 13.00 am the day of the
deadline. Exercises handed in
after 17.00 the day of the deadline are not corrected. Exercises handed
in between 13.00 and 17.00 have a reduced maximum score @ minus 1 point
per hour. Students will receive their grade and feedback the day
following the deadline. If your score is between 1 and 6 you get another
week to revise the exercise based on the feedback and aim for a 6 max.


The exercise are based on:
Vegetation patterns - HillerisLambers et al. (2001). Vegetation pattern
formation in semi-arid grazing systems. Ecology, 82, 1, 50–61, doi:
Flocking - Reynolds , C.W. (1987). Flocks, Herds, and Schools: A
Distributed Behavioral Model. Computer Graphics, 21, 4, 25-34.

During the computer practica at the VU, Matlab will be used. Students
who want to do the unspurvised work at home are recommended to use
OCTAVE which is a free open-source initiative that is almost fully
compatible with Matlab.

Target Audience

MSc Third year BSc students in Biology and Minor Evolutionary Biology
and Ecology with an interest in quantitative macroecology

Recommended background knowledge

Ecologie, mens en natuur I (AB_1001)
Ecologie, mens en natuur II (AB_1002)
Levensgemeenschappen en ecosystemen (AB_1208)

General Information

Course Code AB_1218
Credits 6 EC
Period P1
Course Level 300
Language of Tuition English
Faculty Faculty of Science
Course Coordinator dr. ir. S. Luyssaert
Examiner dr. ir. S. Luyssaert
Teaching Staff dr. ir. S. Luyssaert

Practical Information

You need to register for this course yourself

Last-minute registration is available for this course.

Teaching Methods Computer lab, Lecture