Coupled predator–prey oscillations in a chaotic food web

Authors

  • Elisa Benincà,

    1. Aquatic Microbiology, Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics, University of Amsterdam, Nieuwe Achtergracht 127, 1018 WS Amsterdam, The Netherlands
    2. Department of Aquatic Ecology and Water Quality Management, University of Wageningen, Wageningen, The Netherlands
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  • Klaus D. Jöhnk,

    1. Aquatic Microbiology, Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics, University of Amsterdam, Nieuwe Achtergracht 127, 1018 WS Amsterdam, The Netherlands
    2. Leibniz-Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries, Neuglobsow, Germany
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  • Reinhard Heerkloss,

    1. Institute of Biosciences, University of Rostock, Albert Einstein Str 3, D-18051 Rostock, Germany
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  • Jef Huisman

    Corresponding author
    1. Aquatic Microbiology, Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics, University of Amsterdam, Nieuwe Achtergracht 127, 1018 WS Amsterdam, The Netherlands
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E-mail:j.huisman@uva.nl

Abstract

Ecology Letters (2009) 12: 1367–1378

Abstract

Coupling of several predator–prey oscillations can generate intriguing patterns of synchronization and chaos. Theory predicts that prey species will fluctuate in phase if predator–prey cycles are coupled through generalist predators, whereas they will fluctuate in anti-phase if predator–prey cycles are coupled through competition between prey species. Here, we investigate predator–prey oscillations in a long-term experiment with a marine plankton community. Wavelet analysis of the species fluctuations reveals two predator–prey cycles that fluctuate largely in anti-phase. The phase angles point at strong competition between the phytoplankton species, but relatively little prey overlap among the zooplankton species. This food web architecture is consistent with the size structure of the plankton community, and generates highly dynamic food webs. Continued alternations in species dominance enable coexistence of the prey species through a non-equilibrium ‘killing-the-winner’ mechanism, as the system shifts back and forth between the two predator–prey cycles in a chaotic fashion.

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