Animals and many plants are counted in discrete units. The collection of possible values (state space) of population numbers is thus a nonnegative integer lattice. Despite this fact, many mathematical population models assume a continuum of system states. The complex dynamics, such as chaos, often displayed by such continuous-state models have stimulated much ecological research; yet discrete-state models with bounded population size can display only cyclic behavior. Motivated by data from a population experiment, we compared the predictions of discrete-state and continuous-state population models. Neither the discrete- nor continuous-state models completely account for the data. Rather, the observed dynamics are explained by a stochastic blending of the chaotic dynamics predicted by the continuous-state model and the cyclic dynamics predicted by the discrete-state models. We suggest that such lattice effects could be an important component of natural population fluctuations.
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