Experimentally induced transitions in the dynamic behaviour of insect populations

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SIMPLE nonlinear models can generate fixed points, periodic cycles and aperiodic oscillations in population abundance without any external environmental variation. Another familiar theoretical result is that shifts in demographic parameters (such as survival or fecundity) can move a population from one of these behaviours to another1–4. Unfortunately, empirical evidence to support these theoretical possibilities is scarce5–15. We report here a joint theoretical and experimental study to test the hypothesis that changes in demographic parameters cause predictable changes in the nature of population fluctuations. Specifically, we developed a simple model describing population growth in the flour beetle Tribolium16. We then predicted, using standard mathematical techniques to analyse the model, that changes in adult mortality would produce substantial shifts in population dynamic behaviour. Finally, by experimentally manipulating the adult mortality rate we observed changes in the dynamics from stable fixed points to periodic cycles to aperiodic oscillations that corresponded to the transitions forecast by the mathematical model.

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Costantino, R., Cushing, J., Dennis, B. et al. Experimentally induced transitions in the dynamic behaviour of insect populations. Nature 375, 227–230 (1995) doi:10.1038/375227a0

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