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DEMOGRAPHIC MECHANISMS DETERMINING THE DYNAMICS OF THE RELATIVE ABUNDANCE OF PHASES IN BIPHASIC LIFE CYCLES

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  • Received 30 September 2009. Accepted 19 April 2010.

Abstract

Studies investigating the demographic traits that drive the patterns of phase dominance (the ploidy ratio) in isomorphic biphasic life cycles have not found an integrative solution. Either fertility or survival has been suggested independently as the main driver. Here, we provide a global theoretical framework on how demographic mechanisms determine the ploidy ratio, unifying previous numerical and observational attempts at this question. The analytical solutions of both the ploidy ratio and its elasticities to model parameters of a stage/size-structured model patterned after the life cycle of a marine alga were derived and analyzed. A complex interaction among vital rates determines the patterns of phase dominance of biphasic life cycles. Three co-occurring processes—growth, fertility, and looping—may dominate the dynamics of the population, determining both its growth rate and ploidy ratio. Our analyses show that in species where fertility is low, the ploidy ratio is highly elastic to looping transitions (survival, breakage, and clonal growth). Consequently, the subtle morphological, ecophysiological, and biochemistry phase differences that have been reported in isomorphic life cycles as not explaining the observed ploidy ratios, may, in fact, explain them if they translate into slight phase differences in looping transitions. In species where fertility is low, the looping dissimilarities between phases cannot be too high favoring simultaneously one phase, as the population structure would be completely dominated by that phase. In the case of ecological similarity between phases (equal looping and growth rates between phases), a ploidy ratio different from one can only be set by strong phase differences in fertility.

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