Interdisciplinary education – a predator–prey model for developing a skill set in mathematics, biology and technology

06 Mar 2017

The science of biology has been transforming dramatically and so the need for a stronger mathematical background for biology students has increased. Biological students reaching the senior or post-graduate level often come to realize that their mathematical background is insufficient. Similarly students in a mathematics programme, interested in biological phenomena find it difficult to master the complex systems encountered in biology. In short, the biologists do not have enough mathematics and the mathematicians are not being taught enough biology. The need for interdisciplinary curricula that includes disciplines such as biology, physical science, information technology, and mathematics is widely recognized, but has not been widely implemented. In this paper it is suggested that mathematical biology students develop a skill set of biology (ecology), mathematics, modeling and technology to encourage working across disciplinary boundaries. To illustrate such a skill set a predator-prey model that contains self-limiting factors for both predator and prey, is suggested. The general idea of dynamics, as described by differential equations is introduced and students are encouraged to discover the applicability of this approach to the dynamics of more complex biological systems. The level of mathematics and technology required is not advanced; therefore it is ideal for inclusion in a senior-level or introductory graduate level course for students interested in mathematical biology in which three important disciplines - biology, mathematics and technology - come together to develop a skill set for prospective researchers.