Wednesday June 29, 2022

Science Daily

Chaos in natural populations appears to be much more common than previously recognized, according to a new analysis by scientists at UC Santa Cruz and NOAA Fisheries.

Populations of organisms in natural ecosystems fluctuate a lot, and a key question for ecologists is whether those fluctuations are regular (varying around some theoretically “stable” equilibrium), random (completely unpredictable), or chaotic. Chaotic systems, like the weather, can be predictable in the short term but not in the long term, and they are highly sensitive to small differences in the initial conditions.

“Knowing whether these fluctuations are regular, chaotic, or random has major implications for how well, and how far into the future, we can predict population sizes and how they will respond to management interventions,” said Tanya Rogers, a NOAA Fisheries ecologist and research fellow at UCSC’s Institute of Marine Sciences.

Rogers is first author of the new study, published June 27 in Nature Ecology & Evolution. Her coauthors are Bethany Johnson, a UCSC graduate student in applied mathematics, and Stephan Munch, a NOAA Fisheries ecologist and adjunct professor at UCSC in the Departments of Applied Mathematics and Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.

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