Theoretical Ecology

, Volume 4, Issue 2, pp 133–152

Rapid prey evolution and the dynamics of two-predator food webs


    • Department of Ecology and Evolutionary BiologyCornell University
  • Lutz Becks
    • Department of Ecology and Evolutionary BiologyCornell University
    • Department of General Ecology, Zoological Institute, Centre for Biological SciencesUniversity of Cologne
Original Paper

DOI: 10.1007/s12080-010-0096-7

Cite this article as:
Ellner, S.P. & Becks, L. Theor Ecol (2011) 4: 133. doi:10.1007/s12080-010-0096-7


Traits affecting ecological interactions can evolve on the same time scale as population and community dynamics, creating the potential for feedbacks between evolutionary and ecological dynamics. Theory and experiments have shown in particular that rapid evolution of traits conferring defense against predation can radically change the qualitative dynamics of a predator–prey food chain. Here, we ask whether such dramatic effects are likely to be seen in more complex food webs having two predators rather than one, or whether the greater complexity of the ecological interactions will mask any potential impacts of rapid evolution. If one prey genotype can be well-defended against both predators, the dynamics are like those of a predator–prey food chain. But if defense traits are predator-specific and incompatible, so that each genotype is vulnerable to attack by at least one predator, then rapid evolution produces distinctive behaviors at the population level: population typically oscillate in ways very different from either the food chain or a two-predator food web without rapid prey evolution. When many prey genotypes coexist, chaotic dynamics become likely. The effects of rapid evolution can still be detected by analyzing relationships between prey abundance and predator population growth rates using methods from functional data analysis.


Rapid evolutionEco-evolutionary dynamicsPredator–preyConsumer-resourceCyclesChaosChemostat

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010