The Dr. Erik B. and Mrs. Joyce D.C. Young Lecture

"Mathematical Ecology: A Century of Progress, and Challenges for the Next Century"

simon levin

Simon Levin. Photo courtesy of Princeton University.

Simon Levin. Photo courtesy of Princeton University.


Mathematical ecology is one of the oldest and most exciting subjects in mathematical biology, and it has helped in the management of natural systems and infectious diseases. Though many problems remain in those areas, we face new challenges today in finding ways to cooperate in managing our “global commons.” From behavioral and evolutionary perspectives, our societies display conflict of purpose or fitness across levels, leading to game-theoretic problems in understanding how cooperation emerges in nature and how it might be realized in dealing with problems of the global commons. This lecture will attempt to weave these topics together by surveying recent work and offering challenges for how mathematics can contribute to open problems.


Simon Levin is the James S. McDonnell Distinguished Professor in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Princeton University. He received his B.A. in mathematics from the Johns Hopkins University in 1961 and his Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of Maryland in 1964, under the direction of Monroe H. Martin, director of the Institute for Fluid Dynamics and Applied Mathematics. He was a National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow with George B. Dantzig at the University of California, Berkeley, from 1964 to 1965, when he joined the faculty of Cornell University. He served at Cornell until 1992, becoming chair of the Section of Ecology and Systematics, director of the Center for Environmental Research, and the Charles A. Alexander Professor of Biological Sciences. In 1992, he joined the faculty of Princeton and was the George M. Moffett Professor of Biology from 1992 until 2016, when he became the McDonnell Professor.

Levin’s interests lie at the interface of mathematics and biology, where he has worked for more than 50 years. He is a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, and a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He is also a Fellow of the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics and the Society for Mathematical Biology. Among his many honors, Levin received the Robert MacArthur Award from the Ecological Society of America (1988), the first Okubo Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society of Mathematical Biology and the Japanese Society for Mathematical Biology (2001), the A.H. Heineken Prize for Environmental Sciences from the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (2004), the Kyoto Prize in Basic Sciences from the Inamori Foundation of Japan (2005), the Margalef Prize in Ecology (2010), the Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement (2014), and the National Medal of Science (2014).

Levin has served on numerous science and advisory boards and committees. Currently, among others, he serves as the vice chair for mathematics for the Committee of Concerned Scientists, as a member of the Science Advisory Board of the Sante Fe Institute, and as chair of the committee to select the American Mathematical Society’s Gibbs Lecturers for 2018 and 2019. 

Levin has also served as thesis supervisor or postdoctoral mentor for over 100 mathematical and biological scientists. This legacy is especially close to his heart and will affect the direction of the work at the interface of mathematics and biology for decades to come.