A consumer-resource approach to the density-dependent population dynamics of mutualism

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Like predation and competition, mutualism is now recognized as a consumer resource (C-R) interaction, including, in particular, bi-directional (e.g., coral, plant- mycorrhizae) and uni-directional (e.g., ant-plant defense, plant-pollinator) C-R mutualisms. Here, we develop general theory for the density-dependent population dynamics of mutualism based on the C-R mechanism of interspecific interaction. To test the influence of C-R interactions on the dynamics and stability of bi- and uni-directional C-R mutualisms, we developed simple models that link consumer functional response of one mutualistic species with the resources supplied by another. Phase-plane analyses show that the ecological dynamics of C-R mutualisms are stable in general. Most transient behavior leads to an equilibrium of mutualistic coexistence, at which both species densities are greater than in the absence of interactions. However, due to the basic nature of C-R interactions, certain density-dependent conditions can lead to C-R dynamics characteristic of predator-prey interactions, in which one species overexploits and causes the other to go extinct. Consistent with empirical phenomena, these results suggest that the C-R interaction can provide a broad mechanism for understanding density-dependent population dynamics of mutualism. By unifying predation, competition, and mutualism under the common ecological framework of consumer-resource theory, we may also gain a better understanding of the universal features of interspecific interactions in general.
Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title A consumer-resource approach to the density-dependent population dynamics of mutualism
Series title Ecology
DOI 10.1890/09-1163.1
Volume 91
Issue 5
Year Published 2010
Language English
Publisher Ecological Society of America
Contributing office(s) Southeast Ecological Science Center
Description 10 p.
First page 1286
Last page 1295
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