Papers in the Biological Sciences


Date of this Version



DeLong and Lyon (2020), PeerJ, DOI 10.7717/peerj.9377


Copyright 2020 DeLong and Lyon


Background: Predicting the effects of climate warming on the dynamics of ecological systems requires understanding how temperature influences birth rates, death rates and the strength of species interactions. The temperature dependance of these processes—which are the underlying mechanisms of ecological dynamics—is often thought to be exponential or unimodal, generally supported by short-term experiments. However, ecological dynamics unfold over many generations. Our goal was to empirically document shifts in predator–prey cycles over the full range of temperatures that can possibly support a predator–prey system and then to uncover the effect of temperature on the underlying mechanisms driving those changes.

Methods: We measured the population dynamics of the Didinium-Paramecium predator–prey system across a wide range of temperatures to reveal systematic changes in the dynamics of the system. We then used ordinary differential equation fitting to estimate parameters of a model describing the dynamics, and used these estimates to assess the long-term temperature dependance of all the underlying mechanisms.

Results: We found that predator–prey cycles shrank in state space from colder to hotter temperatures and that both cycle period and amplitude varied with temperature. Model parameters showed mostly unimodal responses to temperature, with one parameter (predator mortality) increasing monotonically with temperature and one parameter (predator conversion efficiency) invariant with temperature. Our results indicate that temperature can have profound, systematic effects on ecological dynamics, and these can arise through diverse and simultaneous changes in multiple underlying mechanisms. Predicting the effects of temperature on ecological dynamics may require additional investigation into how the underlying drivers of population dynamics respond to temperature beyond a short-term, acute response.

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