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Generalised approach to modelling a three-tiered microbial food-web

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Matthew WadeORCiD



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


The complexity of the anaerobic digestion process has motivated the development of complex models, such as the widely used Anaerobic Digestion Model No. 1. However, this complexity makes it intractable to identify the stability profile coupled to the asymptotic behaviour of existing steady-states as a function of conventional chemostat operating parameters (substrate inflow concentration and dilution rate). In a previous study this model was simplified and reduced to its very backbone to describe a three-tiered chlorophenol mineralising food-web, with its stability analysed numerically using consensus values for the various biological parameters of the Monod growth functions. Steady-states where all organisms exist were always stable and non-oscillatory. Here we investigate a generalised form of this three-tiered food-web, whose kinetics do not rely on the specific kinetics of Monod form. The results are valid for a large class of growth kinetics as long as they keep the signs of their derivatives. We examine the existence and stability of the identified steady-states and find that, without a maintenance term, the stability of the system may be characterised analytically. These findings permit a better understanding of the operating region of the bifurcation diagram where all organisms exist, and its dependence on the biological parameters of the model. For the previously studied Monod kinetics, we identify four interesting cases that show this dependence of the operating diagram with respect to the biological parameters. When maintenance is included, it is necessary to perform numerical analysis. In both cases we verify the discovery of two important phenomena; i) the washout steady-state is always stable, and ii) a switch in dominance between two organisms competing for hydrogen results in the system becoming unstable and a loss in viability. We show that our approach results in the discovery of an unstable operating region in its positive steady-state, where all three organisms exist, a fact that has not been reported in a previous numerical study. This type of analysis can be used to determine critical behaviour in microbial communities in response to changing operating conditions.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Sari T, Wade MJ

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Mathematical Biosciences

Year: 2017

Volume: 291

Pages: 21-37

Online publication date: 11/07/2017

Acceptance date: 10/07/2017

Date deposited: 14/07/2017

ISSN (print): 0025-5564

ISSN (electronic): 1879-3134

Publisher: Elsevier


DOI: 10.1016/j.mbs.2017.07.005


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