Emergent Allee effects in top predators feeding on structured prey populations

AndréM. de Roos, Lennart Persson, Horst R. Thieme


Top predators that forage in a purely exploitative manner on smaller stages of a size–structured prey population have been shown to exhibit an Allee effect. This Allee effect emerges from the changes that predators induce in the prey–population size distribution and represents a feedback of predator density on its own performance, in which the feedback operates through and is modified by the life history of the prey. We demonstrate that these emergent Allee effects will occur only if the prey, in the absence of predators, is regulated by density dependence in development through one of its juvenile stages, as opposed to regulation through adult fecundity. In particular, for an emergent Allee effect to occur, over–compensation is required in the maturation rate out of the regulating juvenile stage, such that a decrease in juvenile density will increase the total maturation rate to larger/older stages. If this condition is satisfied, predators with negative size selection, which forage on small prey, exhibit an emergent Allee effect, as do predators with positive size selection, which forage on large adult prey. By contrast, predators that forage on juveniles in the regulating stage never exhibit emergent Allee effects. We conclude that the basic life–history characteristics of many species make them prone to exhibiting emergent Allee effects, resulting in an increased likelihood that communities possess alternative stable states or exhibit catastrophic shifts in structure and dynamics.