Chaos and population control of insect outbreaks

Robert A. Desharnais, R. F. Costantino, J. M. Cushing, Shandelle M. Henson, Brian Dennis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

49 Scopus citations


We used small perturbations in adult numbers to control large fluctuations in the chaotic demographic dynamics of laboratory populations of the flour beetle Tribolium castaneum. A nonlinear mathematical model was used to identify a sensitive region of phase space where the addition of a few adult insects would result in a dampening of the life stage fluctuations. Three experimental treatments were applied: one in which perturbations were made whenever the populations were inside the sensitive region ("in-box treatment"), another where perturbations were made whenever the populations were outside the sensitive region ("out-box treatment"), and an unperturbed control. The in-box treatment caused a stabilization of insect densities at numbers well below the peak values exhibited by the out-box and control populations. This study demonstrates how small perturbations can be used to influence the chaotic dynamics of an ecological system.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)229-235
Number of pages7
JournalEcology letters
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2001


  • Chaos
  • Ecological sensitivity
  • Flour beetles
  • Nonlinear population dynamics
  • Phase space
  • Population control
  • Population perturbations
  • Tribolium

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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