Koss, Lorelei. 2011. Sustainability in a differential equations course: a case study of Easter Island. International Journal of Mathematical Education in Science and Technology. 42(4): 545-553.
Abstract: Easter Island is a fascinating example of resource depletion and population collapse, and its relatively short period of human habitation combined with its isolation lends itself well to investigation by students in a first-semester ordinary differential equations course. This article describes curricular materials for a semester-long case study into environmental and sustain-ability issues in the history of Easter Island. Using results that appeared in recent journal articles, students investigate the date of arrival of early settlers, the impact they had on natural resources through population growth as well as through the introduction of non-native species, and the effect of European diseases on the population.
This is a beautiful article in which the author describes a number of case studies in which she has engaged her students. The paper offers a number of mathematical and scientific efforts to study the Easter Islands, including carbon dating, lichenometry, spread of disease epidemic models, population decline and deforestation, and humans and rats as predators.
The references alone make the paper worth reading, for these offer data on which students can do their differential equation modeling in good style.
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