Fluctuating environments and phytoplankton community structure: A stochastic model

John M. Anderies, Beatrix E. Beisner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

41 Scopus citations


Spatial heterogeneity in organism and resource distributions can generate temporal heterogeneity in resource access for simple organisms like phytoplankton. The role of temporal heterogeneity as a structuring force for simple communities is investigated via models of phytoplankton with contrasting life histories competing for a single fluctuating resource. A stochastic model in which environmental and demographic stochasticity are treated separately is compared with a model with deterministic resource variation to assess the importance of stochasticity. When compared with the deterministic model, the stochastic model allows for coexistence over a wider range of parameter values (or life-history types). The model suggests that demographic stochasticity alone is far more important in increasing the possibility of coexistence than environmental stochasticity alone. However, the combined effects of both types of stochasticity produce the largest likelihood of coexistence. Finally, the influence of relative nutrient levels and nutrient pulse frequency on these results is addressed. We relate our findings to variable environment theory with evidence for both relative nonlinearity and the storage effect acting in this model. We show for the first time that temporal dynamics generated by demographic stochasticity may operate like the storage effect at particular spatial scales.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)556-569
Number of pages14
JournalAmerican Naturalist
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2000
Externally publishedYes


  • Competition
  • Diversity
  • Phytoplankton
  • Stochastic model
  • Temporal heterogeneity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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