Preprint: Neutral competition boosts chaos in food webs

Posted on Thu 19 July 2018 in Blog

In the early days of quantum theory, all Nobel prizes awarded to researchers working on atomic structure fell under the category of chemistry. I think it was Ernest Rutherford who joked about his instantaneous transformation from a physicist into a chemist when he received the chemistry Nobel prize in 1908.

I'm certainly not even comparable to the great New Zealander. But I'm also suffering a transformation, from a physicist into a biologist. Unfortunately, mine is not instantaneous. It took literally years of work to publish my first preprint. The title is Neutral competition boosts chaos in food webs, and it's about population dynamics.

The document is available in arXiv.

Those who, like me, are obsessed with reproducibility, will appreciate knowing that the code I wrote for my analysis is fully available in GitHub.


Near-neutrality of competition has been proposed to facilitate coexistence of species because it slows down competitive exclusion, thus making it easier for equalizing mechanisms to maintain diverse communities. An unrelated line of work has shown that chaos can promote coexistence of many species in super-saturated communities. By analyzing a set of numerically simulated food webs, here we link those previously unrelated findings. We show that near-neutrality of competition at the prey's trophic level, in the presence of interactions with natural enemies, increases the chances of developing chaotic dynamics. Our results suggest that near-neutrality may promote biodiversity in two ways: through reducing the rates of competitive displacement and through promoting non-equilibrium dynamics.


All from Wageningen University and Research.