When very slow is too fast - collapse of a predator-prey system.


ICBM, Carl von Ossietzky University Oldenburg, Oldenburg, Lower Saxony, Germany. Electronic address: [Email]


Critical transitions or regime shifts are sudden and unexpected changes in the state of an ecosystem, that are usually associated with dangerous levels of environmental change. However, recent studies show that critical transitions can also be triggered by dangerous rates of environmental change. In contrast to classical regime shifts, such rate-induced critical transitions do not involve any obvious loss of stability, or a bifurcation, and thus cannot be explained by the linear stability analysis. In this work, we demonstrate that the well-known Rosenzweig-MacArthur predator-prey model can undergo a rate-induced critical transition in response to a continuous decline in the habitat quality, resulting in a collapse of the predator and prey populations. Rather surprisingly, the collapse occurs even if the environmental change is slower than the slowest process in the model. To explain this counterintuitive phenomenon, we combine methods from geometric singular perturbation theory with the concept of a moving equilibrium, and study critical rates of environmental change with dependence on the initial state and the system parameters. Moreover, for a fixed rate of environmental change, we determine the set of initial states that undergo a rate-induced population collapse. Our results suggest that ecosystems may be more sensitive to how fast environmental conditions change than previously assumed. In particular, unexpected critical transitions with dramatic ecological consequences can be triggered by environmental changes that (i) do not exceed any dangerous levels, and (ii) are slower than the natural timescales of the ecosystem. This poses an interesting research question whether regime shifts observed in the natural world are predominantly rate-induced or bifurcation-induced.


Canard trajectory,Population collapse,Rate-induced critical transition,Rosenzweig-MacArthur model,Singular perturbation theory,

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