Predator-prey interactions in a nonequilibrium context: the metapopulation approach to modeling “hide-and-seek” dynamics in a spatially explicit tri-trophic system


  • Gösta Nachman

G. Nachman, Dept of Population Ecology, Zoological Inst., Univ. of Copenhagen, Universitetsparken 15, DK 2100 Ø, Denmark (


Predators and prey are usually heterogeneously distributed in space so that the ability of the predators to respond to the distribution of their prey may have a profound influence on the stability and persistence of a predator-prey system. A special type of dynamics is “hide-and-seek” characterized by a high turnover rate of local populations of prey and predators, because once the predators have found a patch of prey they quickly overexploit it, whereupon the starving predators either should move to better places or die. Continued persistence of prey and predators thus hinges on a long-term balance between local extinctions and founding of new subpopulations. The colonization rate depends on the rate of emigration from occupied patches and the likelihood of successfully arriving at a suitable new patch, while extinction rate depends on the local population dynamics. Since extinctions and colonizations are both discrete probabilistic events, these phenomena are most adequately modeled by means of a stochastic model. In order to demonstrate the qualitative differences between a deterministic and stochastic approach to population dynamics, a spatially explicit tritrophic predator-prey model is developed in a deterministic and a stochastic version. The model is parameterized using data for the two-spotted spider mite (Tetranychus urticae) and the phytoseiid mite predator Phytoseiulus persimilis inhabiting greenhouse cucumbers.
Simulations show that the deterministic and stochastic approaches yield different results. The deterministic version predicts that the populations will exhibit violent fluctuations, implying that the system is fundamentally unstable. In contrast, the stochastic version predicts that the two species will be able to coexist in spite of frequent local extinctions of both species, provided the system consists of a sufficiently large number of local populations. This finding is in agreement with experimental results. It is therefore concluded that demographic stochasticity in combination with dispersal is capable of producing and maintaining sufficient asynchrony between local populations to ensure long-term regional (metapopulation) persistence.