Nonlinear population dynamics are ubiquitous in animals

T. J. Clark, Angela D. Luis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Scopus citations


Nonlinear dynamics, where a change in the input is not proportional to a change in the output, are often found throughout nature, for example in biochemical kinetics. Because of the complex suite of interacting abiotic and biotic variables present in ecosystems, animal population dynamics are often thought to be driven in a nonlinear, state-dependent fashion. However, so far these have only been identified in model organisms and some natural systems. Here we show that nonlinear population dynamics are ubiquitous in nature. We use nonlinear forecasting to analyse 747 datasets of 228 species to find that insect population trends were highly nonlinear (74%), followed by mammals (58%), bony fish (49%) and birds (35%). This indicates that linear, equilibrium-based model assumptions may fail at predicting population dynamics across a wide range of animal taxa. We show that faster-reproducing animals are more likely to have nonlinear and high-dimensional dynamics, supporting past ecological theory. Lastly, only a third of time series were predictable beyond two years; therefore, the ability to predict animal population trends using these methods may be limited. Our results suggest that the complex dynamics necessary to cause regime shifts and other transitions may be inherent in a wide variety of animals.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)75-81
Number of pages7
JournalNature Ecology and Evolution
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2020


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