Heterogeneity among prey in their susceptibility to predation is a potentially important stabilizer of predator-prey interactions, reducing the magnitude of population oscillations and enhancing total prey population abundance. When microevolutionary responses of prey populations occur at time scales comparable to population dynamics, adaptive responses in prey defense can, in theory, stabilize predator-prey dynamics and reduce top-down effects on prey abundance. While experiments have tested these predictions, less explored are the consequences of the evolution of prey phenotypes that can persist in both vulnerable and invulnerable classes. We tested this experimentally using a laboratory aquatic system composed of the rotifer Brachionus calyciflorus as a predator and the prey Synura petersenii, a colony-forming alga that exhibits genetic variation in its propensity to form colonies and colony size (larger colonies are a defense against predators). Prey populations of either low initial genetic diversity and low adaptive capacity or high initial genetic diversity and high adaptive capacity were crossed with predator presence and absence. Dynamics measured over the last 127 days of the 167-day experiment revealed no effects of initial prey genetic diversity on the average abundance or temporal variability of predator populations. However, genetic diversity and predator presence/absence interactively affected prey population abundance and stability; diversity of prey had no effects in the absence of predators but stabilized dynamics and increased total prey abundance in the presence of predators. The size structure of the genetically diverse prey populations diverged from single strain populations in the presence of predators, showing increases in colony size and in the relative abundance of cells found in colonies. Our work sheds light on the adaptive value of colony formation and supports the general view that genetic diversity and intraspecific trait variation of prey can play a vital role in the short-term dynamics and stability of planktonic predator-prey systems.
Steiner, C. F., & Masse, J. (2013). The stabilizing effects of genetic diversity on predator-prey dynamics. F1000Research, 2. https://doi.org/10.12688/f1000research.2-43.v1