Successional dynamics in the seasonally forced diamond food web

Am Nat. 2012 Jul;180(1):1-16. doi: 10.1086/665998. Epub 2012 May 21.


Plankton seasonal succession is a classic example of nonequilibrium community dynamics. Despite the fact that it has been well studied empirically, it lacks a general quantitative theory. Here we investigate a food web model that includes a resource, two phytoplankton, and a shared grazer-the diamond food web-in a seasonal environment. The model produces a number of successional trajectories that have been widely discussed in the context of the verbal Plankton Ecology Group model of succession, such as a spring bloom of a good competitor followed by a grazer-induced clear-water phase, setting the stage for the late-season dominance of a grazer-resistant species. It also predicts a novel, counterintuitive trajectory where the grazer-resistant species has both early- and late-season blooms. The model often generates regular annual cycles but sometimes produces multiyear cycles or chaos, even with identical forcing each year. Parameterizing the model, we show how the successional trajectory depends on nutrient supply and the length of the growing season, two key parameters that vary among water bodies. This model extends nonequilibrium theory to food webs and is a first step toward a quantitative theory of plankton seasonal succession.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Food Chain*
  • Models, Theoretical*
  • Phytoplankton*
  • Population Dynamics
  • Seasons
  • Zooplankton*