When can ecological interactions drive an entire ecosystem into a persistent non-equilibrium state, where many species populations fluctuate without going to extinction? We show that high-diversity spatially heterogeneous systems can exhibit chaotic dynamics which persist for extremely long times. We develop a theoretical framework, based on dynamical mean-field theory, to quantify the conditions under which these fluctuating states exist, and predict their properties. We uncover parallels with the persistence of externally-perturbed ecosystems, such as the role of perturbation strength, synchrony and correlation time. But uniquely to endogenous fluctuations, these properties arise from the species dynamics themselves, creating feedback loops between perturbation and response. A key result is that fluctuation amplitude and species diversity are tightly linked: in particular, fluctuations enable dramatically more species to coexist than at equilibrium in the very same system. Our findings highlight crucial differences between well-mixed and spatially-extended systems, with implications for experiments and their ability to reproduce natural dynamics. They shed light on the maintenance of biodiversity, and the strength and synchrony of fluctuations observed in natural systems.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Modelling and Simulation
- Molecular Biology
- Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
- Computational Theory and Mathematics