Quick scheme for separable first-order ODE

I'm trying to integrate an incredibly simple ODE: $$y'(x) = -f(y),\quad y(0) = y_0 \ ,$$ from $x=0$ to $x=1$. This is a decay type of equation, $f$ is the (variable) decay rate and $y$ is the abundance. Both $y$ and $f(y)$ are positive everywhere.

I'm faced with a couple of constraints. Sometimes $f(y) \gg 1$, which makes this a stiff problem on the timescales I'm interested in. I can evaluate $f(y)$ exactly, but it can be costly. So I'd like to minimize the number of times I have to call it. Luckily, the result doesn't have to be super accurate. This is a tiny routine that will be called often in a much larger code. The current method is obviously horrible: we just take a single forward Euler step: $$y(1) \approx y(0) + f(y_0) \ .$$ So literally anything suggested will be an improvement :)

Obviously, I could use an RK scheme, probably with adaptive step sizing, or better yet an implicit scheme. However, given the simplicity of the equation I thought there may be something more elegant. For instance, we could rewrite the problem as:

$$\int_{y_0}^{y_1} \frac{dy}{f(y)} = -1$$

and attempt to solve for $y_1$, but I'm not sure of the best way to approach this numerically.

Any suggestions appreciated!

• I'm guessing that you don't have any simple way of evaluating $\partial{f}/\partial{y}$? You would need that for an implicit method and since calculation of $f(y)$ is expensive, evaluating using finite differences is unattractive. – Bill Greene Apr 30 '15 at 19:06
• Yeah, if it all possible I'd like to avoid relying on $\partial f / \partial y$. I have an explicit expression for $f$, so I could compute the derivative exactly if it turns out to be necessary, but that's a last resort. I feel one should be able to do something explicit with the integral form... – Geoff Ryan Apr 30 '15 at 19:38
• For a scalar ODE there isn't really any point in optimizing things. Just apply a standard (higher-order, adaptive) method. If that isn't fast enough, come back here and let us know. – David Ketcheson May 1 '15 at 8:13