Journal of Mathematical Biology

, Volume 55, Issue 4, pp 541-573

First online:

Effects of rapid prey evolution on predator–prey cycles

  • Laura E. JonesAffiliated withEcology and Evolutionary Biology, Cornell University Email author 
  • , Stephen P. EllnerAffiliated withEcology and Evolutionary Biology, Cornell University

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We study the qualitative properties of population cycles in a predator–prey system where genetic variability allows contemporary rapid evolution of the prey. Previous numerical studies have found that prey evolution in response to changing predation risk can have major quantitative and qualitative effects on predator–prey cycles, including: (1) large increases in cycle period, (2) changes in phase relations (so that predator and prey are cycling exactly out of phase, rather than the classical quarter-period phase lag), and (3) “cryptic” cycles in which total prey density remains nearly constant while predator density and prey traits cycle. Here we focus on a chemostat model motivated by our experimental system (Fussmann et al. in Science 290:1358–1360, 2000; Yoshida et al. in Proc roy Soc Lond B 424:303–306, 2003) with algae (prey) and rotifers (predators), in which the prey exhibit rapid evolution in their level of defense against predation. We show that the effects of rapid prey evolution are robust and general, and furthermore that they occur in a specific but biologically relevant region of parameter space: when traits that greatly reduce predation risk are relatively cheap (in terms of reductions in other fitness components), when there is coexistence between the two prey types and the predator, and when the interaction between predators and undefended prey alone would produce cycles. Because defense has been shown to be inexpensive, even cost-free, in a number of systems (Andersson et al. in Curr Opin Microbiol 2:489–493, 1999: Gagneux et al. in Science 312:1944–1946, 2006; Yoshida et al. in Proc Roy Soc Lond B 271:1947–1953, 2004), our discoveries may well be reproduced in other model systems, and in nature. Finally, some of our key results are extended to a general model in which functional forms for the predation rate and prey birth rate are not specified.


Predator–prey Consumer-resource Cycles Chemostat Evolution

Mathematics Subject Classification (2000)

92D25 92D40 92D15 34C15