In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Dynamics of Age- and Stage-Structured Populations and Communities

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Journals
  • Age-, Stage-, or Size-Based Formulations
  • Size-Dependent Interactions and Ontogenetic Niche Shifts of Individuals

Ecology Dynamics of Age- and Stage-Structured Populations and Communities
Lennart Persson
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 April 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 April 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199830060-0036


Most ecological models in contemporary ecological theory ignore the implications of age and particularly size variation in populations. This fact is also largely true for most empirical—experimental and nonexperimental—studies. This situation is in contrast to the fact that most organisms on earth undergo major changes in size and resource use over their life period. In fact, more than 80 percent of organisms of all taxa undergo major qualitative changes in their body morphology in the form of metamorphosis. Changes in size over ontogeny will generally mean that an individual will use different resource types and be exposed to changes in predator mortality over its life period. Although even early ecology books mentioned the presence of individual variation due to age or size, it is during the last thirty years that the implications of age and size variation have started to be systematically investigated. To some degree this belated interest can be attributed to the previous lack of appropriate and simplified modeling approaches. The different readings in this bibliography include general overviews, differences between age- and size-based formulations, maturation versus reproduction regulation, effects of age/stage variation on population dynamics and communities, and applications. The focus is on systems in which stage duration is flexible and dependent on food conditions.

General Overviews

Caswell 2001 is a general-interest book on matrix models, but in specific chapters it considers how to handle density-dependent transitions between different stages in structured population models. DeAngelis and Gross 1992 is a classic book focused on theory and modeling formulations for size-structured dynamics. Miller and Rudolf 2011 gives a broad overview of the effects of stage variation on both population and community ecology in a shorter form. Murdoch, et al. 2003 is mainly a theoretical contribution with a particular emphasis on host-parasitoid interactions. Tuljapurkar and Caswell 1997 is in many respects a follow-up to DeAngelis and Gross 1992, showing how rapidly the field developed theoretically during the 1990s. De Roos and Persson 2013 is the most up-to-date treatment and covers a theoretical and empirical analysis of the implications of size and stage structure for the dynamics and structure of ecological communities. Werner and Gilliam 1984 gives the first broad and conceptual overview of the field. It can be compared to DeAngelis and Gross 1992 to get a sense of not only the overall development of the field but also the shift in focus from individual-level processes per se to population-level processes.

  • Caswell, Hal. 2001. Matrix population models: Construction, analysis and interpretation. 2d ed. Sunderland, MA: Sinauer.

    A comprehensive treatment of matrix population models in general and their applications in ecology and demography. Only part of the book deals with size-structured populations but nevertheless gives a basic treatment of how size-structure dynamics can be analyzed in a matrix-modeling framework.

  • DeAngelis, Donald L., and Loui J. Gross. 1992. Individual-based models and approaches in ecology: Populations, communities and ecosystems. New York: Chapman and Hall.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-1-4757-0869-1

    Covers a number of basic aspects of structured population theory including different approaches of how to go from individuals to populations depending on the characteristics of the system studied. Also covers models for animal and plant populations.

  • de Roos, André M., and Lennart Persson. 2013. Population and community ecology of ontogenetic development. Population Monographs Series 51. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.

    Gives a basic understanding of why existing unstructured ecological theory under most conditions is not applicable and analyzes a number of different community configurations. The book is aimed for Masters and PhD students and researchers including scientists working in applied areas such as fisheries management.

  • Miller, Tom E. X., and Volker H. W. Rudolf. 2011. Thinking inside the box: Community-level consequences of stage-structured populations. Trends in Ecology & Evolution 26:457–466.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.tree.2011.05.005

    A theoretical and empirical overview of the effects of stage variation on populations and communities. The paper is quite suitable as a discussion paper for students at undergraduate and graduate levels.

  • Murdoch, William W., Cheryl J. Briggs, and Roger M. Nisbet. 2003. Consumer-resource dynamics. Population Monographs Series 36. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.

    An in-depth look at the implications of stage structure on consumer-resource dynamics with particular emphasis on host-parasitoid systems. The book includes a nice summary of the relationship between unstructured and structured population theory.

  • Tuljapurkar, Shripad, and Hal Caswell, eds. 1997. Structured-population models in marine, terrestrial, and freshwater systems. Population and Community Ecology Series 18. London: Chapman and Hall.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-1-4615-5973-3

    Contains an overview of general methods to analyze the dynamics of structured populations such as matrix models, delay-differential equations, and physiologically structured models. Furthermore, theoretical applications to specific questions or specific organisms are included. A very thorough overview but at the same time somewhat demanding for the reader.

  • Werner, Earl E., and James F. Gilliam. 1984. The ontogenetic niche and species interactions in size-structured populations. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics 15:393–425.

    DOI: 10.1146/

    A classical overview of the implications of ontogenetic niche shifts and the dynamics of individuals, populations, and communities. The theoretical analyses focus mainly on individual performance from which population and community consequences are postulated.

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