Complex Dynamics in Ecological Time Series

Peter Turchin, Andrew D. Taylor
Ecology February 1, 1992 Journal Link PDF


Although the possibility of complex dynamical behaviors–limit cycles, quasiperodic oscillations, and aperiodic chaos–has been recognized theoretically, most ecologists are skeptical of their importance in nature. In this paper we develop a methodology for reconstructing endogenous (or deterministic) dynamics from ecological time series. Our method consists of fitting a response surface to the yearly population change as a function of lagged population densities. Using the version of the model that includes two lags, we fitted time—series data for 14 insect and 22 vertebrate populations. The 14 insect populations were classified as: unregulated (1 case), exponentially stable (three cases), damped oscillations (six cases), limit cycles (one case), quasiperiodic oscillations (two cases), and chaos (one case). The vertebrate examples exhibited a similar spectrum of dynamics, although there were no cases of chaos. We tested the results of the response—surface methodology by calculating autocorrelation functions for each time series. Autocorrelation patterns were in agreement with our findings of periodic behaviors (damped oscillations, limit cycles, and quasiperiodicity). On the basis of these results, we conclude that the complete spectrum of dynamical behaviors, ranging from exponential stability to chaos, is likely to be found among natural populations.
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