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Why Do Populations Cycle? A Synthesis of Statistical and Mechanistic Modeling Approaches

Bruce E. Kendall, Cheryl J. Briggs, William W. Murdoch, Peter Turchin, Stephen P. Ellner, Edward McCauley, Roger M. Nisbet and Simon N. Wood
Ecology
Vol. 80, No. 6 (Sep., 1999), pp. 1789-1805
Published by: Wiley
DOI: 10.2307/176658
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/176658
Page Count: 17
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Why Do Populations Cycle? A Synthesis of Statistical and Mechanistic Modeling Approaches
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Abstract

Population cycles have long fascinated ecologists. Even in the most-studied populations, however, scientists continue to dispute the relative importance of various potential causes of the cycles. Over the past three decades, theoretical ecologists have cataloged a large number of mechanisms that are capable of generating cycles in population models. At the same time, statisticians have developed new techniques both for characterizing time series and for fitting population models to time-series data. Both disciplines are now sufficiently advanced that great gains in understanding can be made by synthesizing these complementary, and heretofore mostly independent, quantitative approaches. In this paper we demonstrate how to apply this synthesis to the problem of population cycles, using both long-term population time series and the often-rich observational and experimental data on the ecology of the species in question. We quantify hypotheses by writing mathematical models that embody the interactions and forces that might cause cycles. Some hypotheses can be rejected out of hand, as being unable to generate even qualitatively appropriate dynamics. We finish quantifying the remaining hypotheses by estimating parameters, both from independent experiments and from fitting the models to the time-series data using modern statistical techniques. Finally, we compare simulated time series generated by the models to the observed time series, using a variety of statistical descriptors, which we refer to collectively as "probes." The model most similar to the data, as measured by these probes, is considered to be the most likely candidate to represent the mechanism underlying the population cycles. We illustrate this approach by analyzing one of Nicholson's blowfly populations, in which we know the "true" governing mechanism. Our analysis, which uses only a subset of the information available about the population, uncovers the correct answer, suggesting that this synthetic approach might be successfully applied to field populations as well.

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