Papers in the Biological Sciences


Date of this Version



Am. Nat. 2003. Vol. 162, pp. 668–684.


Copyright 2003 by The University of Chicago. Used by permission.


We investigate the dynamics of a series of two-prey-one predator models in which the predator exhibits adaptive diet choice based on the different energy contents and/or handling times of the two prey species. The predator is efficient at exploiting its prey and has a saturating functional response; these two features combine to produce sustained population cycles over a wide range of parameter values. Two types of models of behavioral change are compared. In one class of models (“instantaneous choice”), the probability of acceptance of the poorer prey by the predator instantaneously approximates the optimal choice, given current prey densities. In the second class of models (“dynamic choice”), the probability of acceptance of the poorer prey is a dynamic variable, which begins to change in an adaptive direction when prey densities change but which requires a finite amount of time to approach the new optimal behavior. The two types of models frequently predict qualitatively different population dynamics of the three-species system, with chaotic dynamics and complex cycles being a common outcome only in the dynamic choice models. In dynamic choice models, factors that reduce the rate of behavioral change when the probability of accepting the poorer prey approaches extreme values often produce complex population dynamics. Instantaneous and dynamic models often predict different average population densities and different indirect interactions between prey species. Alternative dynamic models of behavior are analyzed and suggest, first, that instantaneous choice models may be good approximations in some circumstances and, second, that different types of dynamic choice models often lead to significantly different population dynamics. The results suggest possible behavioral mechanisms leading to complex population dynamics and highlight the need for more empirical study of the dynamics of behavioral change.

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