Efforts to explain animal population cycles often invoke consumer-resource theory, which has shown that consumer-resource interactions alone can drive population cycles. Eco-evo theory instead argues that population cycles are partly driven by fluctuating selection for resistance in the resource, but support for eco-evo theory has come almost entirely from laboratory microcosms. Here we ask, Can eco-evo theory explain population cycles in the field? We compared the ability of eco-evo models and classical “eco-only” models to explain data on cycles in the insect Lymantria dispar, in which outbreaks of the insect are terminated by a fatal baculovirus. We carried out a statistical comparison of the ability of eco-only and eco-evo models to explain combined data from L. dispar outbreak cycles and baculovirus epizootics (epidemics in animals). Both models require high host variation in resistance to explain the epizootic data, but high host variation in the eco-evo model leads to consistently accurate predictions of outbreak cycles, whereas in the presence of high host variation the eco-only model can explain outbreak cycles only by invoking high levels of stochasticity, which leads to highly variable and often inaccurate predictions of outbreak cycles. Our work provides statistically robust evidence that eco-evo models can explain population cycles in the field.
- Insect outbreak
- Population cycle
- Statistical computing
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics