Sustained dynamic transience in a Lotka–Volterra competition model system for grassland species

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Theoretical approaches, such as the Lotka–Volterra framework, enable predictions about long term species coexistence based on stability criteria, but generally assume temporal constancy of system equations and parameters. In real world systems, temporal variability may interfere with the attainment of stable states. Managed grassland ecosystems in Northwestern Europe experience structural periodic fluctuations in environmental conditions: the seasons. In addition, periodic disturbances such as cutting are very common. Here we show, using a Lotka–Volterra system applied to grassland species with empirically derived parameters, that seasonal variability can result in a time dependent equilibrium and redirection of displacement processes. Parameter estimates differed between species and – in most cases – between the seasons. As a result, five of the fifteen tested species combinations had different outcomes of species interactions between seasons. This indicates that systems remain in dynamic transience over the year as the equilibrium changes and the species composition of the system follows the equilibrium without ever attaining it. The non-attainment of the steady state enables coexistence of species even if there is competitive exclusion in one of the seasons. For three of the fifteen species combinations, cutting frequency affected the long-term coexistence patterns. Cutting resets the biomass of competing species and favours during regrowth those species that have a high growth rate, which can alter species coexistence in comparison to a Lotka–Volterra model without cutting. The Lotka–Volterra framework with seasonally changing empirical parameters predicts coexistence as a possible outcome of systems that in component seasons are characterised by exclusion, and vice versa
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2817-2824
JournalEcological Modelling
Issue number15
Publication statusPublished - 2011


  • north-carolina grassland
  • trifolium-repens
  • neighbor relationships
  • plant-communities
  • permanent pasture
  • white clover
  • growth
  • coexistence
  • diversity
  • patterns


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