Math, Meet Ecology!



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Project Description

The Moeller Lab uses mathematical models, laboratory experiments, and field observations to explore community ecology. Our goal is to understand how interactions between different species shape the structure and function of the ecosystems that sustain life on Planet Earth. A current line of research in the lab involves developing mathematical models of acquired metabolism. Normally, we think of metabolism as something hard-wired in an organism, encoded within its DNA. But many species acquire access to other forms of metabolism within their lifetimes, through interactions with other species. This project develops and analyzes mathematical models of this process, connecting the mechanisms of species interactions with their impact on populations, communities, and ecosystems.

Undergraduate Contribution

Undergraduates involved in this project will contribute in multiple ways. They will serve as model developers, using their biological intuition and literature research to formulate mathematical equations representing study systems of interest. Study systems include, but are not limited to, plant-microbe mutualisms, chloroplast-stealing plankton, and coral-algal symbioses. Students will learn and use analytical skills (to compute model equilibria), programming skills (to simulate differential equations), and numerical skills (to analyze model outputs).

Requirements/Application Instructions

Students should have familiarity with calculus and, ideally, linear algebra. Enthusiasm for biological problem-solving, and a desire to seek commonalities across superficially disparate systems is preferred. Students should be collaborative, tenacious, and creative. Some programming skills (the lab uses MATLAB and R for most of its work) would be helpful, but are not a requirement.