Capturing chaos: a multidisciplinary approach to nonlinear population dynamics

Document Type


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chaos, Nonlinear dynamics, population ecology, stochasticity, Tribolium


The hypothesis of chaotic population dynamics was proposed in ecology by Robert May in the mid-1970s. At that time the idea was controversial, and it remains a fascinating and unsettled issue today. We report the results of a 20-year laboratory research programme that continued in the tradition of the pioneering ecologist Thomas Park using the Tribolium flour beetle model. We present biological evidence of complex population dynamics–including bifurcations, chaos, saddle nodes, phase switching, resonance effects, and multiple attractors–by using a low-dimensional difference equation model for Tribolium together with carefully designed, conducted, and statistically analysed experiments. The model, parameterized with data, also explains the results of historical Tribolium experiments, such as the classical competition studies of Thomas Park and his colleagues. Our research programme has inspired other studies using the Tribolium mathematical and laboratory model. This work was conducted by a multidisciplinary team, which included Jim Cushing.

Journal Title

Journal of Difference Equations and Applications


First Department


Second Department