A consumer-resource approach to the density-dependent population dynamics of mutualism

J. Nathaniel Holland, Donald L. Deangelis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

155 Scopus citations


Like predation and competition, mutualism is now recognized as a consumerresource (C-R) interaction, including, in particular, bi-directional (e.g., coral, plantmycorrhizae) and uni-directional (e.g., ant-plant defense, plant-pollinator) C-R mutualisms. Here, we develop general theory for the density-dependent population dynamics of mutualism based on the C-R mechanism of interspecific interaction. To test the influence of C-R interactions on the dynamics and stability of bi- and uni-directional C-R mutualisms, we developed simple models that link consumer functional response of one mutualistic species with the resources supplied by another. Phase-plane analyses show that the ecological dynamics of C-R mutualisms are stable in general. Most transient behavior leads to an equilibrium of mutualistic coexistence, at which both species densities are greater than in the absence of interactions. However, due to the basic nature of C-R interactions, certain densitydependent conditions can lead to C-R dynamics characteristic of predator-prey interactions, in which one species overexploits and causes the other to go extinct. Consistent with empirical phenomena, these results suggest that the C-R interaction can provide a broad mechanism for understanding density-dependent population dynamics of mutualism. By unifying predation, competition, and mutualism under the common ecological framework of consumer-resource theory, we may also gain a better understanding of the universal features of interspecific interactions in general.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1286-1295
Number of pages10
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2010


  • Consumer-resource interaction
  • Context dependent
  • Density dependent
  • Equilibrium
  • Functional response
  • Indirect interaction
  • Resource supply
  • Stability
  • Transient behavior

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


Dive into the research topics of 'A consumer-resource approach to the density-dependent population dynamics of mutualism'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this