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 journalArticle

39 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 - Jun 21 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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