Resonance-induced multimodal body-size distributions in ecosystems

Adam Lampert*, Tsvi Tlusty

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


The size of an organism reflects its metabolic rate, growth rate, mortality, and other important characteristics; therefore, the distribution of body size is a major determinant of ecosystem structure and function. Body-size distributions often are multimodal, with several peaks of abundant sizes, and previous studies suggest that this is the outcome of niche separation: species from distinct peaks avoid competition by consuming different resources, which results in selection of different sizes in each niche. However, this cannot explain many ecosystems with several peaks competing over the same niche. Here, we suggest an alternative, generic mechanism underlying multimodal size distributions, by showing that the size-dependent tradeoff between reproduction and resource utilization entails an inherent resonance that may induce multiple peaks, all competing over the sameniche. Our theory is well fitted toempirical data in various ecosystems, in which both model and measurements show a multimodal, periodically peaked distribution at larger sizes, followed by a smooth tail at smaller sizes. Moreover, we show a universal pattern of size distributions, manifested in the collapse of data fromecosystems of different scales: phytoplankton in a lake, metazoans in a stream, and arthropods in forests. The demonstrated resonance mechanism is generic, suggesting that multimodal distributions of numerous ecological characters emerge from the interplay between local competition and global migration.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)205-209
Number of pages5
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2 Jan 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Adaptive dynamics
  • Evolutionary ecology
  • Species assembly
  • Species packing
  • Universal scaling


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