Cooperation and stability for complex systems in resource-limited environments

Stacey Butler, James P. O’Dwyer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Resource-limited complex systems are ubiquitous in the natural world, as is the potential for instability in such systems. Classic models of interacting species have provided a basis for our understanding of stability in these systems, and suggest that stable coexistence requires weak, rare, and asymmetric interactions. But missing from these models is an explicit understanding of how resource exchange and resource limitation can drive or prevent instability. Here, we show that systems based on general rules for the consumption and exchange of resources are guaranteed to be stable when exchange of resources is reciprocated by each pair of partners. These cooperative, mutualistic interactions can be arbitrarily strong and yet not disrupt stability. More general modes of exchange will lead to instability when supply rates are low, but when resource supply from outside the system is sufficiently high, arbitrary exchange is consistent with a stable equilibrium.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)239-250
Number of pages12
JournalTheoretical Ecology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1 2020


  • Consumer–resource dynamics
  • Mutualism
  • Stability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology
  • Ecological Modeling


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