Math in the Natural Sciences

Math and the Environment

What is computational ecology?

Computational ecology can be considered a subset of environmental modeling, as it addresses practical questions arising from environmental problems using mathematics; in particular, researchers in computational ecology develop new ways to predict and mitigate the rapidly changing life support systems on Earth. For example, in the field of ecotoxicology, mathematical models are used to predict the effects of environmental pollutants on populations. Natural resource management uses mathematics to set quotas for fish and game. And conservation ecologists use mathematical models to determine the effects of various recovery plans for threatened species, and even to design nature preserves.

The most challenging efforts in computational ecology have to do with the current problems in global climate change. In particular, scientists who work on climate change are concentrating on such models as carbon-climate feedback models (to forecast future climates associated with various policy scenarios), forest VOC emissions (how forests release volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, and how they affect the global atmospheric chemistry), modeling tropical deforestation (the loss of trees means less carbon stores, not to mention the effects of the burning of vegetation involved in deforestation), and so on.


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