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Am Nat. 2005 Mar;165(3):322-35. Epub 2005 Jan 20.

Transient dynamics limit the effectiveness of keystone predation in bringing about coexistence.

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Department of Zoology, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario M5S 3G5, Canada.


We analyze the transient dynamics of simple models of keystone predation, in which a predator preferentially consumes the dominant of two (or more) competing prey species. We show that coexistence is unlikely in many systems characterized both by successful invasion of either prey species into the food web that lacks it and by a stable equilibrium with high densities of all species. Invasion of the predator-resistant consumer species often causes the resident, more vulnerable prey to crash to such low densities that extinction would occur for many realistic population sizes. Subsequent transient cycles may entail very low densities of the predator or of the initially successful invader, which may also preclude coexistence of finite populations. Factors causing particularly low minimum densities during the transient cycles include biotic limiting resources for the prey, limited resource partitioning between the prey, a highly efficient predator with relatively slow dynamics, and a vulnerable prey whose population dynamics are rapid relative to the less vulnerable prey. Under these conditions, coexistence of competing prey via keystone predation often requires that the prey's competitive or antipredator characteristics fall within very narrow ranges. Similar transient crashes are likely to occur in other food webs and food web models.

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