5 years ago

A phase transition induces chaos in a predator-prey ecosystem with a dynamic fitness landscape

William Gilpin, Marcus W. Feldman

by William Gilpin, Marcus W. Feldman

In many ecosystems, natural selection can occur quickly enough to influence the population dynamics and thus future selection. This suggests the importance of extending classical population dynamics models to include such eco-evolutionary processes. Here, we describe a predator-prey model in which the prey population growth depends on a prey density-dependent fitness landscape. We show that this two-species ecosystem is capable of exhibiting chaos even in the absence of external environmental variation or noise, and that the onset of chaotic dynamics is the result of the fitness landscape reversibly alternating between epochs of stabilizing and disruptive selection. We draw an analogy between the fitness function and the free energy in statistical mechanics, allowing us to use the physical theory of first-order phase transitions to understand the onset of rapid cycling in the chaotic predator-prey dynamics. We use quantitative techniques to study the relevance of our model to observational studies of complex ecosystems, finding that the evolution-driven chaotic dynamics confer community stability at the “edge of chaos” while creating a wide distribution of opportunities for speciation during epochs of disruptive selection—a potential observable signature of chaotic eco-evolutionary dynamics in experimental studies.

Publisher URL: http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article

DOI: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1005644

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