Slight phenotypic variation in predators and prey causes complex predator-prey oscillations


Predator-prey oscillations are expected to show a 1/4-phase lag between predator and prey. However, observed dynamics of natural or experimental predator-prey systems are often more complex. A striking but hardly studied example are sudden interruptions of classic 1/4-lag cycles with periods of antiphase oscillations, or periods without any regular predator-prey oscillations. These interruptions occur for a limited time before the system reverts to regular 1/4-lag oscillations, thus yielding intermittent cycles. Reasons for this behaviour are often difficult to reveal in experimental systems. Here we test the hypothesis that such complex dynamical behaviour may result from minor trait variation and trait adaptation in both the prey and predator, causing recurrent small changes in attack rates that may be hard to capture by empirical measurements. Using a model structure where the degree of trait variation in the predator can be explicitly controlled, we show that a very limited amount of adaptation resulting in 10–15% temporal variation in attack rates is already sufficient to generate these intermittent dynamics. Such minor variation may be present in experimental predator-prey systems, and may explain disruptions in regular 1/4-lag oscillations.
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