Solving multispecies population games in continuous space and time

Emil F. Frølich*, Uffe H. Thygesen

*Corresponding author for this work

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Game theory has emerged as an important tool to understand interacting populations in the last 50 years. Game theory has been applied to study population dynamics with optimal behavior in simple ecosystem models, but existing methods are generally not applicable to complex systems. In order to use game-theory for population dynamics in heterogeneous habitats, habitats are usually split into patches and game-theoretic methods are used to find optimal patch distributions at every instant. However, populations in the real world interact in continuous space, and the assumption of decisions based on perfect information is a large simplification. Here, we develop a method to study population dynamics for interacting populations, distributed optimally in continuous space. A continuous setting allows us to model bounded rationality, and its impact on population dynamics. This is made possible by our numerical advances in solving multiplayer games in continuous space. Our approach hinges on reformulating the instantaneous game, applying an advanced discretization method and modern optimization software to solve it. We apply the method to an idealized case involving the population dynamics and vertical distribution of forage fish preying on copepods. Incorporating continuous space and time, we can model the seasonal variation in the migration, separating the effects of light and population numbers. We arrive at qualitative agreement with empirical findings. Including bounded rationality gives rise to spatial distributions corresponding to reality, while the population dynamics for bounded rationality and complete rationality are equivalent. Our approach is general, and can easily be used for complex ecosystems.

Original languageEnglish
JournalTheoretical Population Biology
Pages (from-to)36-45
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2022


  • Game theory
  • Habitat choice
  • Population dynamics
  • Predator–prey
  • Vertical migration


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