Multiple dynamics in a single predator–prey system: experimental effects of food quality

William A. Nelson, Edward McCauley, Frederick J. Wrona

Abstract

Recent work with the freshwater zooplankton Daphnia has suggested that the quality of its algal prey can have a significant effect on its demographic rates and life–history patterns. Predator–prey theory linking food quantity and food quality predicts that a single system should be able to display two distinct patterns of population dynamics. One pattern is predicted to have high herbivore and low algal biomass dynamics (high HBD), whereas the other is predicted to have low herbivore and high algal biomass dynamics (low HBD). Despite these predictions and the stoichiometric evidence that many phytoplankton communities may have poor access to food of quality, there have been few tests of whether a dynamic predator–prey system can display both of these distinct patterns. Here we report, to the authors' knowledge, the first evidence for two dynamical patterns, as predicted by theory, in a single predator–prey system. We show that the high HBD is a result of food quantity effects and that the low HBD is a result of food quality effects, which are maintained by phosphorus limitation in the predator. These results provide an important link between the known effects of nutrient limitation in herbivores and the significance of prey quality in predator–prey population dynamics in natural zooplankton communities.

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