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
Successful calculation of human and natural influence on cloud formation
04.11.2016 | Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main
Invasive Insects Cost the World Billions Per Year
04.10.2016 | University of Adelaide
A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.
Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...
In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.
“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...
The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.
The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...
Broadband rotational spectroscopy unravels structural reshaping of isolated molecules in the gas phase to accommodate water
In two recent publications in the Journal of Chemical Physics and in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, researchers around Melanie Schnell from the Max...
The efficiency of power electronic systems is not solely dependent on electrical efficiency but also on weight, for example, in mobile systems. When the weight of relevant components and devices in airplanes, for instance, is reduced, fuel savings can be achieved and correspondingly greenhouse gas emissions decreased. New materials and components based on gallium nitride (GaN) can help to reduce weight and increase the efficiency. With these new materials, power electronic switches can be operated at higher switching frequency, resulting in higher power density and lower material costs.
Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE together with partners have investigated how these materials can be used to make power...
16.11.2016 | Event News
01.11.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
02.12.2016 | Medical Engineering
02.12.2016 | Agricultural and Forestry Science
02.12.2016 | Physics and Astronomy