Top-predator abundance and chaos in tritrophic food chains


Sergio Rinaldi E-mail:


Nonlinear models and laboratory experiments suggest that populations can be chaotic, whereas field data show that a fair proportion of observed populations are not too far from being chaotic. Thus, a natural question arises: do ecosystems enjoy special properties at the edge of chaos? By limiting the analysis to three classes of tritrophic food chains and to the role played by the nutrient available to the bottom of the ecosystem, we show that top-predator mean abundance is maximum at the edge of chaos. The geographical variability of species abundance along nutrient gradients and the dynamic complexity of observed natural populations are consistent with our findings. Effective guidelines for the sustainability of exploited ecosystems are also derived.