Ecology

Limits of Predictability

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Science  04 May 2001:
Vol. 292, Issue 5518, pp. 811
DOI: 10.1126/science.292.5518.811b

When a number of species compete for only one or two resources, both modeling and experimental studies have shown that the community settles to a stable and predictable species composition. However, when there is multispecies competition for three or more resources, Huisman and Weissing have now shown that this stability and predictability break down. Applying a standard deterministic resource competition model to phytoplankton species, they showed that—for some species compositions—the outcome of competition for more than two resources showed great sensitivity to the initial conditions—one of the hallmarks of chaos. Although ecologists are no strangers to chaos, the levels of unpredictability found in these models pose practical problems; for instance, for water managers trying to predict the occurrence of toxic phytoplankton blooms. — AMS

Am. Nat.157, 488 (2001).

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