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Rarity of density dependence or population regulation with lags?


SEVERAL recent reviews of published life tables1–3 concluded that density-dependent regulation is infrequent in insect populations, prompting a vigorous debate among eco legists4–10. Little attention, however, has been directed to one issue: most life-table analyses look only for direct (not-lagged) density dependence. Thus, there is a real danger that populations characterized by delays in regulation will be relegated to a density-independent limbo by an analysis not equipped to recognize such behaviour. I have evaluated the evidence for delayed density dependence in population dynamics of 14 forest insects, and assessed the effect of regulation lags on the likelihood of detecting direct density dependence. Eight cases exhibited clear evidence for delayed density dependence and lag-induced oscillations, but direct density dependence was detected in only one of these. This result suggests that traditional analyses will not, in general, detect density-dependent regulation in populations that are characterized by lags and complex dynamic behaviour.

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Turchin, P. Rarity of density dependence or population regulation with lags?. Nature 344, 660–663 (1990).

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