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Phase-separation physics underlies new theory for the resilience of patchy ecosystems
Siteur, K.; Liu, Q-X; Rottschäfer, V.; van der Heide, T.; Rietkerk, M.; Doelman, A.; Boström, C.; van de Koppel, J. (2023). Phase-separation physics underlies new theory for the resilience of patchy ecosystems. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 120(2): e2202683120.

Bijhorende data:
In: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. The Academy: Washington, D.C.. ISSN 0027-8424; e-ISSN 1091-6490, meer
Peer reviewed article  

Beschikbaar in  Auteurs 

Author keywords
    self-organization; pattern formation; ecosystem resilience; early-warning signals

Auteurs  Top 
  • Siteur, K., meer
  • Liu, Q-X, meer
  • Rottschäfer, V.
  • van der Heide, T., meer
  • Rietkerk, M.
  • Doelman, A.
  • Boström, C., meer
  • van de Koppel, J., meer

    Spatial self-organization of ecosystems into large-scale (from micron to meters) patterns is an important phenomenon in ecology, enabling organisms to cope with harsh environmental conditions and buffering ecosystem degradation. Scale-dependent feedbacks provide the predominant conceptual framework for self-organized spatial patterns, explaining regular patterns observed in, e.g., arid ecosystems or mussel beds. Here, we highlight an alternative mechanism for self-organized patterns, based on the aggregation of a biotic or abiotic species, such as herbivores, sediment, or nutrients. Using a generalized mathematical model, we demonstrate that ecosystems with aggregation-driven patterns have fundamentally different dynamics and resilience properties than ecosystems with patterns that formed through scale-dependent feedbacks. Building on the physics theory for phase-separation dynamics, we show that patchy ecosystems with aggregation patterns are more vulnerable than systems with patterns formed through scale-dependent feedbacks, especially at small spatial scales. This is because local disturbances can trigger large-scale redistribution of resources, amplifying local degradation. Finally, we show that insights from physics, by providing mechanistic understanding of the initiation of aggregation patterns and their tendency to coarsen, provide a new indicator framework to signal proximity to ecological tipping points and subsequent ecosystem degradation for this class of patchy ecosystems.

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