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Am Nat. 2011 Sep;178(3):287-304. doi: 10.1086/661241.

Comparing the effects of rapid evolution and phenotypic plasticity on predator-prey dynamics.

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  • 1Department of Evolutionary Studies of Biosystems, Graduate University for Advanced Studies (Sokendai), Hayama, Kanagawa, 240-0193, Japan.


Ecologists have increasingly focused on how rapid adaptive trait changes can affect population dynamics. Rapid adaptation can result from either rapid evolution or phenotypic plasticity, but their effects on population dynamics are seldom compared directly. Here we examine theoretically the effects of rapid evolution and phenotypic plasticity of antipredatory defense on predator-prey dynamics. Our analyses reveal that phenotypic plasticity tends to stabilize population dynamics more strongly than rapid evolution. It is therefore important to know the mechanism by which phenotypic variation is generated for predicting the dynamics of rapidly adapting populations. We next examine an advantage of a phenotypically plastic prey genotype over the polymorphism of specialist prey genotypes. Numerical analyses reveal that the plastic genotype, if there is a small cost for maintaining it, cannot coexist with the pairs of specialist counterparts unless the system has a limit cycle. Furthermore, for the plastic genotype to replace specialist genotypes, a forced environmental fluctuation is critical in a broad parameter range. When these results are combined, the plastic genotype enjoys an advantage with population oscillations, but plasticity tends to lose its advantage by stabilizing the oscillations. This dilemma leads to an interesting intermittent limit cycle with the changing frequency of phenotypic plasticity.

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