The interaction between spatial heterogeneity and genetic feedback in laboratory predator-prey systems

Research paper by J. Daniel Udovic, David Pimentel, Donald Nafus

Indexed on: 01 Mar '76Published on: 01 Mar '76Published in: Oecologia


A hybrid experimental design combining laboratory populations and computer simulation was used to study the relative influence of spatial heterogeneity, genetic feedback and predator foraging behavior on the stability of predator-prey systems. Houseflies, Musca domestica, maintained in multicellular or single-cell population cages were used as predator feeding on chemical solutions contained in small glass vials. Feeding, mortality and dispersal of the predators occurred within the cages, but reproduction of the predators and prey as well as dispersal of the prey was controlled by a computer program. Genetic change in the prey was determined partially by the computer model which associated chemical solutions with particular genotypes, and partially by the predators, whose foraging behavior influenced the fitness of each genotype. Three treatments were compared: a genetically polymorphic prey population in a spatially homogeneous environment, a monomorphic prey population in a heterogeneous environment, and a polymorphic prey population in a heterogeneous environment. With the parameters used, the latter treatment, involving an interaction between spatial heterogeneity and genetic feedback, was the most stable. Without genetic feedback in the prey, spatial heterogeneity was insufficient to overcome the destabilizing influence of the predator's foraging behavior. Without spatial heterogeneity, genetic feedback was insufficient to overcome the destabilizing effect of preferential feeding by the predators on palatable prey. The prey population evolved sufficient resistance to cause extinction of the predator population. The results support the hypothesis that population regulation by genetic feedback in predator-prey systems is less likely when predators feed preferentially on susceptible prey and that spatial heterogeneity, by decreasing the relative accessibility of susceptible prey and hence altering the predator's foraging strategy, may increase the likelihood of regulation through genetic feedback.