Laboratory of Theoretical Ecology
Laboratory of Theoretical Ecology focuses on development and analysis of mathematical models in behavioral, population and evolutionary ecology. Our emphasis is on interactions between behavior of individual organisms (such as adaptive foraging or sexual behavior) and dynamics of entire populations and on the feedbacks between individuals and their environment. The underlying aim of our research is understading of fundamental processes that drive biodiversity on Earth.
Current research projects
Many mutualisms rely on inter-specific resource-service exchanges (e.g., pollination, ant fungus gardens, cleaning mutualisms). Our goal is to study how resource-based mutualisms embed within food webs, and their effects on the dynamics and diversity of ecological communities. This is accomplished by modelling of the dynamics of resource production (e.g., nectar, pollen, honeydew) and the effects of their consumption on the dynamics of producers and consumers (the mutualists), as well as third parties (e.g., competitors, herbivores, predators). Adaptability (e.g., by behavior or evolution) in the provision of resources and services is also considered. This research can advance our understanding natural communities, and the consequences of species invasions and management.
Adaptive behavior and population dynamics
Understanding the effects of adaptive behavior in interaction webs is important in the search for mechanisms that maintain ecosystem structure and biodiversity. Our research focuses on mathematical modelling of the interplay of adaptive animal behavior and population dynamics. Behavioral aspects such as changes of prey behavior under predation risk, adaptive habitat selection, optimal foraging, have been shown to strongly affect dynamics, stability, and persistence of populations. Using methods of the evolutionary game theory we study complex feedbacks between adaptive behaviors and stability and persistence of simple interaction networks including both negative (e.g., predation, competition) and positive (e.g., pollination) interactions.
Dynamics of structured populations
Many practical and theoretical problems in ecology, epidemiology and evolutionary biology require consideration of a type of population structure. For example, analyzing impacts of efficiency of a variety of age-specific interventions or of vaccine prioritization in the ongoing COVID-19 epidemics, as well as exploring changes in dynamics of animal populations subject to sexually transmitted infections or sex-selective predators, we need to structure the respective populations by age and sex, and mirror this structure in the corresponding mathematical models. Our current research in this respect covers a range of topics, including dispersal-driven metapopulation dynamics, impacts of mating strategies on dynamics of populations subject to sexually transmitted infections, evolution of life history in age-structured or sex-structured populations, and actually exploration of impacts of non-pharmaceutical interventions and vaccination strategies on dynamics of the COVID-19 epidemic. Our results have ramifications for conservation strategies, biocontrol programmes, and generally management of populations.