Identifying consumer-resource population dynamics using paleoecological data

Árni Einarsson*, Ulf Hauptfleisch, Peter R. Leavitt, Anthony R. Ives

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)
304 Downloads (Pure)


Ecologists have long been fascinated by cyclic population fluctuations, because they suggest strong interactions between exploiter and victim species. Nonetheless, even for populations showing high-amplitude fluctuations, it is often hard to identify which species are the key drivers of the dynamics, because data are generally only available for a single species. Here, we use a paleoecological approach to investigate fluctuations in the midge population in Lake Mývatn, Iceland, which ranges over several orders of magnitude in irregular, multigeneration cycles. Previous circumstantial evidence points to consumer-resource interactions between midges and their primary food, diatoms, as the cause of these high-amplitude fluctuations. Using a pair of sediment cores from the lake, we reconstructed 26 years of dynamics of midges using egg remains and of algal groups using diagnostic pigments. We analyzed these data using statistical methods that account for both the autocorrelated nature of paleoecological data and measurement error caused by the mixing of sediment layers. The analyses revealed a signature of consumer-resource interactions in the fluctuations of midges and diatoms: diatom abundance (as inferred from biomarker pigment diatoxanthin) increased when midge abundance was low, and midge abundance (inferred from egg capsules) decreased when diatom abundance was low. Similar patterns were not found for pigments characterizing the other dominant primary producer group in the lake (cyanobacteria), subdominant algae (cryptophytes), or ubiquitous but chemically unstable biomarkers of total algal abundance (chlorophyll a); however, a significant but weaker pattern was found for the chemically stable indicator of total algal populations (β-carotene) to which diatoms are the dominant contributor. These analyses provide the first paleoecological evaluation of specific trophic interactions underlying high amplitude population fluctuations in lakes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)361-371
Number of pages11
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 07 Mar 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Chironomidae
  • Consumer-resource dynamics
  • Diatoms
  • Fossil pigments
  • Iceland
  • Lake mývatn
  • Population fluctuations

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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