Advance in systems ecology is made by both experimental and theoretical methods. Since theoretical analyses are often carried out by using mathematical tools, theoretical systems ecology is closely related to mathematical ecology. On the other side, a part of mathematical ecology belongs to systems ecology.

The purpose of research in mathematical ecology is to understand better, and possibly arrive at rules and principles governing phenomena identified in ecology, including functioning of natural or man-made ecosystems. First a system of hypotheses needs to be constructed. Such a system, often called a mathematical model, is made to capture some features of ecosystem behavior. An analysis is usually carried out on a model to find less obvious consequences. Hence, mathematical ecology consists of mathematical models and analyses of models, theorems, or statements regarding model solutions and of applications.

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