Spiral vegetation patterns in high-altitude wetlands

Cristian Fernandez-Oto, Daniel Elias Escaff, Jaime Cisternas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations

Abstract

When plant communities suffer the stress of limited resources, for instance adverse environmental conditions such as extreme aridity, the spatial homogeneity of the biomass is lost and self-organized patterns may arise. Here, we report the observation of spiral-shaped patterns in the biomass of grass (genus deyeuxia), under highland arid conditions in the north of Chile. The spiral arms are a few meters long and a few centimeters wide. These dynamic structures are observed in the grazing area of an herbivore member of the South American camelids, the vicuna, on the border of highland wetlands. These spirals cannot be explained by the well-established mathematical models which describe other vegetation patterns (that emerge from a Turing-type of instability) such as stripes, rings, or fairy circles. We attribute the formation of spirals to the coupling between the growth of vegetation in semiarid regions and the grazing of vicunas. The mathematical analysis of this coupling reveals an excitable behavior, i.e. small perturbations of the equilibrium generate large trajectories before coming back, that is the origin of the spirals.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)38-46
Number of pages9
JournalEcological Complexity
Volume37
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Daniel Escaff, and Cristian Fernandez-Oto acknowledge the financial support of FONDECYT Projects No. 1170669, and 3170227 respectively. The authors thank M.L. Pomo, D. Elgueta and E. Rivera for their collaboration to obtain the data. The authors also thank I. Van Geet, S.S. Gopalakrishnan and R. Nascimento for their help to correct the text.

Funding Information:
Daniel Escaff, and Cristian Fernandez-Oto acknowledge the financial support of FONDECYT Projects No. 1170669 , and 3170227 respectively. The authors thank M.L. Pomo, D. Elgueta and E. Rivera for their collaboration to obtain the data. The authors also thank I. Van Geet, S.S. Gopalakrishnan and R. Nascimento for their help to correct the text.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 Elsevier B.V.

Keywords

  • Arid
  • Grazing
  • Population dynamics
  • Self-organization
  • Spirals
  • Vegetation dynamics

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