Extended patchy ecosystems may increase their total biomass through self-replication

Mustapha Tlidi, Ignacio Bordeu, Marcel G. Clerc, Daniel Escaff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Patches of vegetation consist of dense clusters of shrubs, grass, or trees, often found to be circular characteristic size, defined by the properties of the vegetation and terrain. Therefore, vegetation patches can be interpreted as localized structures. Previous findings have shown that such localized structures can self-replicate in a binary fashion, where a single vegetation patch elongates and divides into two new patches, in a process resembling cellular mitosis. Here, we extend these previous results by considering the more general case, where the plants interact non-locally, this extension adds an extra level of complexity and shrinks the gap between the model and real ecosystems, where it is known that the plant-to-plant competition through roots and above-ground facilitating interactions have non-local effects, i.e. they extend further away than the nearest neighbor distance. Through numerical simulations, we show that for a moderate level of aridity, a transition from a single patch to periodic pattern occurs. Moreover, for large values of the hydric stress, we predict an opposing route to the formation of periodic patterns, where a homogeneous cover of vegetation may decay to spot-like patterns. The evolution of the biomass of vegetation patches can be used as an indicator of the state of an ecosystem, allowing to distinguish if a system is in a self-replicating or decaying dynamics. In an attempt to relate the theoretical predictions to real ecosystems, we analyze landscapes in Zambia and Mozambique, where vegetation forms patches of tens of meters in diameter. We show that the properties of the patches together with their spatial distributions are consistent with the self-organization hypothesis. We argue that the characteristics of the observed landscapes may be a consequence of patch self-replication, however, detailed field and temporal data is fundamental to assess the real state of the ecosystems.
Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)534-543
Number of pages10
JournalEcological Indicators
StatePublished - 1 Nov 2018


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