Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

  • Letter
  • Published:

Invasion sequence affects predator–prey dynamics in a multi-species interaction


Ecologists seek to understand the rules that govern the assembly, coexistence and persistence of communities of interacting species. There is, however, a variety of sequences in which a multi-species community can be assembled—unlike more familiar one- and two-species systems. Ecological systems can exhibit contrasting dynamics depending on initial conditions1, but studies have been focused on simple communities initiated at different densities, not on multi-species communities constructed in different sequences. Investigations of permanence and convergence in ecological communities2,3,4 have been concerned with the flux of whole species (presence or absence)4 but have not addressed the central issues concerning the dynamics exhibited by individual species in particular interactions. Here we examine data for replicated three-species systems and demonstrate that the dynamic trajectories of both a predator and its prey within the system are determined by the sequence in which it is constructed, and that for one construction-sequence alternative dynamic patterns are possible.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Access options

Buy this article

Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout

Figure 1: Representative culture of P. interpunctella (thin line) and granulovirus (GV) (dotted line) to which V. canescens (bold line) was added.
Figure 2: Representative culture of P. interpunctella and V. canescens to which GV was added.
Figure 3: ACFs of the host and parasitoid for the first 14 weeks (approximately two host generations).
Figure 4
Figure 5: Similarity dendrogram following hierarchical cluster analysis of HVP and HPV cultures.
Figure 6: Patterns exhibited by the three-species age-structured model.

Similar content being viewed by others


  1. Cushing, J. M., Dennis, B., Desharnais, R. A. & Costantino, R. F. Moving towards an unstable equilibrium: saddle nodes in population systems. J. Anim. Ecol. 67, 298– 306 (1998).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Law, R. & Morton, R. D. Permanence and the assembly of ecological communities. Ecology 77, 762– 775 (1996).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Samuels, C. L. & Drake, J. A. Divergent perspectives on community convergence. Trends Ecol. Evol. 12, 427– 432 (1997).

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  4. Law, R. in Advanced Ecological Theory (ed. McGlade, J.) 143– 171 (Blackwell Science, Oxford, 1999).

    Book  Google Scholar 

  5. Gurney, W. S. C. & Nisbet, R. M. Fluctuation periodicity, generation separation and the expression of larval competition. Theor. Popul. Biol. 28, 150– 180 (1985).

    Article  MathSciNet  Google Scholar 

  6. Sait, S. M., Begon, M. & Thompson, D. J. Long-term population dynamics of the Indian meal moth Plodia interpunctella and its granulosis virus. J. Anim. Ecol. 63, 861–870 (1994).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Begon, M., Sait, S. M. & Thompson, D. J. Predator–prey cycles with period shifts between two- and three-species systems. Nature 381, 311–315 (1996).

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  8. Bjørnstad, O. N. et al. Population dynamics of the Indian meal moth: demographic stochasticity and delayed regulatory mechanisms. J. Anim. Ecol. 67 , 110–126 (1998).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Sait, S. M., Begon, M. & Thompson, D. J. The effect of a sublethal baculovirus infection in the Indian meal moth, Plodia interpunctella. J. Anim. Ecol. 63, 541–550 ( 1994).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Begon, M., Sait, S. M. & Thompson, D. J. Persistence of a parasitoid-host system: refuges and generation cycles? Proc. R. Soc. Lond. B 260, 131–137 (1995).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  11. Bjørnstad, O. N., Sait, S. M., Stenseth, N. C., Thompson, D. J. & Begon, M. Coupling strength controls the impact of specialised enemies on the dimension complexity of experimental moth dynamics. Nature (submitted).

  12. May, R. M. & Hassell, M. P. The dynamics of multiparasitoid-host interactions. Am. Nat. 117, 234– 261 (1981).

    Article  MathSciNet  Google Scholar 

  13. Hochberg, M. E., Hassell, M. P. & May, R. M. The dynamics of host–parasitoid–pathogen interactions. Am. Nat. 135, 74– 94 (1990).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Rand, D. A. & Wilson, H. B. Chaotic stochasticity—a ubiquitous source of unpredictability in epidemics. Proc. R. Soc. Lond. B 246, 179–184 ( 1991).

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  15. Hastings, A. & Higgins, K. Persistence of transients in spatially structured ecological models. Science 263, 1133–1136 (1994).

    Article  ADS  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  16. Dennis, B., Desharnais, R. A., Cushing, J. M. & Costantino, R. F. Transitions in population dynamics: equilibria to periodic cycles to aperiodic cycles. J. Anim. Ecol. 66, 704– 729 (1997).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Briggs, C. J., Sait, S. M., Begon, M., Thompson, D. J. & Godfray, H. C. J. What causes generation cycles in populations of stored product moths? J. Anim. Ecol. 69, 352–366 (2000).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Sait, S. M., Begon, M. & Thompson, D. J. The influence of larval age on the response of Plodia interpunctella to a granulosis virus. J. Invertebr. Pathol. 63, 107–110 ( 1994).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Sait, S. M., Begon, M., Thompson, D. J., Harvey, J. A. & Hails, R. S. Factors affecting host selection in an insect host–parasitoid interaction. Ecol. Entomol. 22, 225–230 ( 1997).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Knell, R. J., Begon, M. & Thompson, D. J. Transmission of Plodia interpunctella granulosis virus does not conform to the mass action model. J. Anim. Ecol. 67, 592–599 ( 1998).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Godfray, H. C. J. & Hassell, M. P. Discrete and continuous insect populations in tropical environments. J. Anim. Ecol. 58, 153–174 ( 1989).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Gordon, D. M., Nisbet, R. M., De Roos, A., Gurney, W. S. C. & Stewart, R. R. Discrete generations in host-parasitoid models with contrasting life cycles. J. Anim. Ecol. 60, 295–308 (1991).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Chatfield, C. The Analysis of Time Series (Chapman & Hall, London, 1996)

    MATH  Google Scholar 

  24. Harvey, J. A., Harvey, I. F. & Thompson, D. J. Flexible larval growth allows use of a range of host sizes by a parasitoid wasp. Ecology 75, 1420–1428 (1994).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Gurney, W. S. C., Nisbet, R. M. & Lawton, J. H. The systematic formulation of tractable single-species population models incorporating age structure. J. Anim. Ecol. 52, 479–495 (1983).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Briggs, C. J. & Godfray, H. C. J. The dynamics of insect-pathogen interactions in stage-structured populations. Am. Nat. 145, 855–887 (1995).

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


We thank the NERC for funding this work, P. Rohani and O. Bjørnstad for helpful comments and constructive criticism of earlier versions of the manuscript.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Steven M. Sait.

Supplementary information

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Sait, S., Liu, WC., Thompson, D. et al. Invasion sequence affects predator–prey dynamics in a multi-species interaction. Nature 405, 448–450 (2000).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

This article is cited by


By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing