A.M. de Roos
- Symmetry breaking in ecological systems through different energy efficiencies of juveniles and adults
- Volume | Issue number
- 94 | 7
- Number of pages
- Document type
- Faculty of Science (FNWI)
- Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics (IBED)
Ontogenetic development is a fundamental aspect of the life history of all organisms and has major effects on population and community dynamics. We postulate a general conceptual framework for understanding these effects and claim that two potential energetics bottlenecks at the level of the individual organism—the rate by which it develops and the rate by which it reproduces—form a fundamental route to symmetry-breaking in ecological systems, leading to ontogenetic asymmetry in energetics. Unstructured ecological theory, which ignores ontogenetic development, corresponds to a limiting case only, in which mass-specific rates of biomass production through somatic growth and reproduction, and biomass loss through mortality, are independent of body size (ontogenetic symmetry). Ontogenetic symmetry results in development and reproduction being limited to the same extent by food density. In all other cases, symmetry-breaking occurs. Ontogenetic asymmetry results in increases in juvenile, adult, or even total biomass in response to mortality. At the community level, this gives rise to alternative stable states via predator-induced shifts in prey size distributions. Ontogenetic asymmetry furthermore leads to two distinct types of cycles in population dynamics, depending on whether development or reproduction is most energy limited. We discuss the mechanisms giving rise to these phenomena and the empirical support for them. We conclude that the concepts of ontogenetic symmetry and ontogenetic asymmetry form a novel and general organizing principle on which future ecological theory should be developed.
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