Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Experimental proof of chaos in food webs

The traditional idea of the balance of nature has taken quite a beating by a study that appears in the 14 February issue of Nature.

Using a long-term laboratory experiment, the study demonstrates that, even under constant conditions, all species in a food web continued to fluctuate in a chaotic fashion. Chaos makes long-term prediction of species abundances impossible.

Theoretical ecologists already argued in the 1970s that populations of plants and animals might fluctuate in an unpredictable manner, even without external influences. These predictions, derived from chaos theory, attracted a lot of debate. However, only few scientists believed that species in real ecosystems would truly fluctuate in a chaotic fashion. The common perception was that species fluctuations result from changes in external conditions, driven by climate change or other disturbances of the balance of nature.

This classic perspective has been radically changed by new findings of graduate student Elisa Benincà and Professor Jef Huisman of the Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics of the University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands, in collaboration with colleagues from Wageningen University (The Netherlands), the University of Rostock (Germany), and Cornell University (USA).

The core of their work consists of a laboratory experiment in which a plankton community isolated from the Baltic Sea was studied for more than eight years. The experiment was maintained under constant light and temperature conditions by the German biologist Reinhard Heerkloss, who reported the development of the different plankton species twice a week. To his major surprise, the food web never settled at equilibrium and the species abundances continued to vary wildly. He sent his data to Amsterdam for statistical analysis. This revealed that the fluctuations were caused by the species themselves; competition and predation generated a dynamic food web in which none of the species succeeded in getting the upper hand. Advanced mathematical techniques proved the indisputable presence of chaos in this food web.

According to the authors, these findings have far-reaching implications: “Our results demonstrate that species abundances are essentially unpredictable in the long term. For many years, we thought that a better understanding of all relevant processes would enable sound prediction of changes in species abundances in response to external factors (e.g., climate change). Now we know that things are not as simple as that.” Professors Jef Huisman and Marten Scheffer, both from The Netherlands, had already foreseen the possibility of chaos in plankton communities by means of mathematical models. However, the experimental demonstration of chaos in this study provides the real breakthrough. The limited predictability of species in food webs is comparable to the weather forecast. Benincà: “Short-term prediction is possible, but long-term prediction is not. We can at best indicate within which boundaries species will fluctuate”.

The research was financed by the Earth and Life Sciences Foundation, which is subsidized by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO).

Josje Spinhoven | alfa
Further information:

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Invasive Insects Cost the World Billions Per Year
04.10.2016 | University of Adelaide

nachricht Malaysia's unique freshwater mussels in danger
27.09.2016 | The University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia

21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine

Stanford researchers create new special-purpose computer that may someday save us billions

21.10.2016 | Information Technology

From ancient fossils to future cars

21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>