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Simulating Ecological and Evolutionary Systems in C
by Will Wilson
ISBN 0521776589 / 9780521776585 / 0-521-77658-9
Publisher Cambridge University Press
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Written primarily as a textbook for undergraduates, graduates, and biological researchers, Simulating Ecological and Evolutionary Systems in C offers an introduction to writing C programs that simulate common ecological processes, as well as the mathematical models behind them.
This title offers an intriguing mix of several analytical models--expressed in the language of mathematics--that researchers have used over the years to explain such phenomena as predator-prey interactions, how foraging patterns affect a species population, and other biological processes. Throughout the book, readers are invited to try out these rules for themselves by using computer simulations that are written in C. As suggested, analytical models can be verified--and even challenged--by comparing them with evidence that's generated from computer simulations.
While this book offers plenty of mathematical background (it assumes knowledge of calculus and differential equations), it's actually much more accessible when it comes to programming. There's a basic tour of C from the ground up, including the basics of writing and compiling programs in Unix and Windows. Any reader with a willingness to learn C can try out these simulations (which will remind the computer hobbyist of Conway's Game of Life, a well-known simulation). While there are plenty of visualization techniques--through PostScript files--more computer-savvy readers can take these programs to the next level by adding real-time graphics. The text culminates in an introduction to genetic algorithms, an exciting area of recent research in which evolutionary processes are simulated in software.
For the student or specialist, this is a solid academic treatment of an exciting field of biological research. (Each chapter concludes with exercises for the classroom, and a section on sample software projects will help students hone their programming skills on a rich variety of biological problems.) For the game programmer or interested enthusiast, it provides a glimpse into the exciting world of biological simulations and some intriguing algorithms to try out on one's own. --Richard Dragan