Individual variability and population regulation: a model of the significance of within-generation density dependence
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Most models of theoretical population ecology consider population density as a state variable and thus ignore the fact that populations are composed not of identical average individuals but of individuals which are usually different. However, this individual variability may be important for population regulation. We therefore analysed an individual-based population model which explicitly describes within-generation processes, i.e. individual growth, starvation, and resource dynamics. The results show that if population dynamics are dominated by slow changes in resource level, the population size in the model undergoes wide oscillation, often leading to extinction. If, on the other hand, fast within-generation processes predominate, such as starvation and sudden drops in resource levels, the population fluctuates to a limited extent around an average. Within-generation density dependence may thus be an important mechanism which is largely ignored in classic time-discrete state-variable models. We conclude that the individual-based approach provides important insights into the hierarchical organization of population dynamics, i.e. the relationship between fast processes at the individual level and slower processes at the population level.
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