Gene Expression

Math × Biology → Crazy Delicious!

i-a34240127d0288723674ee4025a2e49d-otto.jpgI just purchased a copy of A Biologist’s Guide to Mathematical Modeling in Ecology and Evolution by Sarah P. Otto and Troy Day. My main rationale for getting this book was that I wanted a reference with the kitchen sink included, and, I was curious about mathematical ecology. This text leans a bit more toward ecology than I would have preferred, but it has a lot of good stuff and I’d recommend it if you are curious about the stiff formal side of biology. I liked the fact that there was a section on probability as well as linear algebra; Otto & Day only assume algebra and calculus, so it is totally accessible to undergraduates. It really isn’t that dense in terms math and prose, the type set means that the 700+ pages throws a bit less at you than you might assume. There are a load of illustrations too if pictures are your style.

(I really appreciate the tables of formulas clustered appropriately by category and separated into discrete and continuous sections; nothing new, but nice to have it all on one platter so to speak)


  1. #1 Oldfart
    March 20, 2008

    Gee. Now if I can just live on peanut butter and Black Raspberry jam for two weeks instead of the current one and maybe put off buying medicine for a month, I might be able to afford a used copy of this……………

  2. #2 Cameron
    March 20, 2008

    Off topic, but what happened to your Structure reviews?

  3. #3 LH
    March 20, 2008


    I think $40-50 is a very modest price.

  4. #4 KevinC
    March 20, 2008


    Depends on how much you make. I think I’ll be competing with Oldfart for a used copy.

  5. #5 Corey
    March 20, 2008

    Compared to what my university bookstore gouges us for texts it’s not that bad at all.

  6. #6 Rich Lawler
    March 20, 2008

    This is a really comprehensive and terrific book. Not too pricey if you do the page/dollar ratio.

    Other good modeling books to come out is the book by Hanna Kokko (Modeling for Field Biologists), which includes Matlab code; also the book by McElreath and Boyd (Mathematical models of social evolution), which gives step by step, detailed analyses of kin selection, reproductive skew, sexual selection game theory etc. Both of these books are written in a conversational style and assume little math background.

  7. #7 razib
    March 20, 2008

    Off topic, but what happened to your Structure reviews?

    the current chapter is 300 pages long.

    and yeah, it is actually relatively cheap. who else has had to pay $120 for a 100 page math book?

  8. #8 agnostic
    March 20, 2008

    I flipped through this in the library once, like you say it assumes little background — and is really geared toward people who hate math. The tone throughout is “Well, OK, we promise this won’t hurt,” and “Please, please, for the love of god, just learn this little bit of math for your own good.”

    It’s cynical yet realistic, like the parent who aims only to coax their toddler into eating a mouthful of something healthy between stuffing their face with junk.

    We’ve used Edelstein-Keshet’s book for our two-semester math bio class, and it’s pretty good. No pop gen, but that would be a book unto itself. It assumes intro linear algebra and ODEs, and treats PDE theory on a need-to-know basis. Lots of cool graphs and pictures too.

  9. #9 MadGenius
    March 21, 2008

    What would be a good introductory math book for a biologist? I’m interested more in things like molecular dynamics than evolution. Thanks

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