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© 2016 John Wiley & Sons Ltd/CNRS. Although theoretical models have demonstrated that predator-prey population dynamics can depend critically on age (stage) structure and the duration and variability in development times of different life stages, experimental support for this theory is non-existent. We conducted an experiment with a host-parasitoid system to test the prediction that increased variability in the development time of the vulnerable host stage can promote interaction stability. Host-parasitoid microcosms were subjected to two treatments: Normal and High variance in the duration of the vulnerable host stage. In control and Normal-variance microcosms, hosts and parasitoids exhibited distinct population cycles. In contrast, insect abundances were 18-24% less variable in High- than Normal-variance microcosms. More significantly, periodicity in host-parasitoid population dynamics disappeared in the High-variance microcosms. Simulation models confirmed that stability in High-variance microcosms was sufficient to prevent extinction. We conclude that developmental variability is critical to predator-prey population dynamics and could be exploited in pest-management programs.

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Ecology Letters

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