Large-amplitude cycles of Daphnia and its algal prey in enriched environments

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Ecological theory predicts that stable populations should yield to large-amplitude cycles in richer environments1,2,3. This does not occur in nature. The zooplankton Daphnia and its algal prey in lakes throughout the world illustrate the problem4,5,6. Experiments show that this system fits the theory's assumptions7,8,9, yet it is not destabilized by enrichment6. We have tested and rejected four of five proposed explanations10. Here, we investigate the fifth mechanism: inedible algae in nutrient-rich lakes suppress cycles by reducing nutrients available to edible algae. We found three novel results in nutrient-rich microcosms from which inedible algae were excluded. First, as predicted by theory, some Daphnia-edible algal systems now display large-amplitude predator-prey cycles. Second, in the same environment, other populations are stable, showing only small-amplitude demographic cycles. Stability is induced when Daphnia diverts energy from the immediate production of young. Third, the system exhibits coexisting attractors—a stable equilibrium and large-amplitude cycle. We describe a mechanism that flips the system between these two states.

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Figure 1: Large- and small-amplitude cycles in the same global environment.
Figure 2: Suppression of Daphnia's fecundity in predator–prey cycles and stage-structured cycles.
Figure 3: Systems can switch between large-amplitude and small-amplitude cycles.
Figure 4: Detecting the different types of cycle.
Figure 5: Energy channelling towards asexual reproduction destabilizes dynamics.


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We thank E. Crone, L. Jackson, J. Post, W. Nelson and N. Hairston Jr for constructive criticism. M. Meding, J. LaMontagnt and K. Fitzsimmons assisted with the experiment. S. Watson provided assistance with algal cultures and expertise on phytoplankton enumeration. E.M. acknowledges support from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

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Correspondence to Edward McCauley.

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McCauley, E., Nisbet, R., Murdoch, W. et al. Large-amplitude cycles of Daphnia and its algal prey in enriched environments. Nature 402, 653–656 (1999) doi:10.1038/45223

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