In the wiki page of Biophysics:

Biophysics spans all scales of biological organization, from the molecular scale to whole organisms and ecosystems.

But after searching on the internet; the dominant application of physics in biology that I see is at the molecular scale. In the wiki page Mathematical biophysics, there is a lot of interesting information, but it is only about mathematical knowledge applied to biophysics, not physics itself.

What, if any, physics knowledge (based on principles and laws of physics) can be applied to biology in the sense of organisms and ecosystems?

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    $\begingroup$ For a non-molecular example, see biomechanics. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 7, 2015 at 14:40
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    $\begingroup$ This question should provide one example: biology.stackexchange.com/questions/11044/… $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 7, 2015 at 14:42
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks, that's organism scale. What's about ecosystem? @fileunderwater $\endgroup$
    – Ooker
    Commented Jan 7, 2015 at 14:43
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    $\begingroup$ You might be interested in reading about biomimetics. $\endgroup$
    – biogirl
    Commented Jan 8, 2015 at 4:16
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    $\begingroup$ Brownian motion.. It is used for migrations and dispersal $\endgroup$
    Commented Jan 8, 2015 at 5:17

1 Answer 1


This question is really asking for examples, and the list of ways that knowledge of physics can be used in biology could be very long. However, here are a couple of examples:

  • Systems ecology, especially with regard to energy and nutrient flow.
    This type of ecology can be strongly influenced by physics. For one example see the book Theoretical Ecosystem Ecology: Understanding Element Cycles by Ågren & Bosatta (Ågren was originally a physicist)

  • Physical limitations to growth and transport
    This can include for instance mechanical contraints on plant growth (see e.g. the book Plant Physics by Nicklas & Spatz), water transport in trees (see e.g. this BioSE question) or the biomechanics of movement (see e.g. Hudson et al (2012) on the speed and movement of cheetahs or Wikipedia: Biomechanics).

  • Allometric relationships between organisms, e.g. with regard to metabolism
    To explain these types of relationships knowledge in physics is useful. See e.g. Kleiber's law for more.

  • MAXENT as a general approach to ecological patterns or to model species distributions
    This is basically a tool lifted from physics that can be applied to ecological problems. There are many papers to look at, but Harte & Newman (2014) (Harte is another previous physicist) and Elith et al (2010) are two good starting points.

  • Dynamical modelling of populations and communities
    This field use many of the same tools for analysis as physics, e.g. systems of differential equations. One of the pioneers in this field (among many) were Robert May (also started with a PhD in physics), and his classical book Theoretical Ecology: Principles and Applications is still a good starting point.

  • Energy harnessing and conversion by organisms
    This can refer both to how organsims convert prey to energy (e.g. conversion efficiencies) and the physics of photosynthesis (which is an interesting intersection between physics and molecular biology). See Jang et al (2004) and O'Reilly & Olaya-Castro (2013) for examples of the how quantum mechanics can inform us about photosynthesis.

Hopefully this will give you a sense of some different ways that knowledge in physics can be useful for biology.

  • $\begingroup$ Thank you so much for taking your time writing this wonderful answer :D $\endgroup$
    – Ooker
    Commented Jan 7, 2015 at 20:53
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    $\begingroup$ I am currently interested in evolution. Does any of your suggestions have it? Does any field in evolution have physics in there? $\endgroup$
    – Ooker
    Commented Jan 8, 2015 at 17:02

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