Format

Send to:

Choose Destination
See comment in PubMed Commons below
Am Nat. 2005 Jan;165(1):E1-12. Epub 2004 Nov 9.

Self-organization and vegetation collapse in salt marsh ecosystems.

Author information

  • 1Centre for Estuarine and Marine Ecology, Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO-KNAW), P.O. Box 140, 4400 AC Yerseke, The Netherlands. j.vsndekoppel@nioo.knaw.nl

Abstract

Complexity theory predicts that local feedback processes may strongly affect the organization of ecosystems on larger spatial scales. Whether complexity leads to increased resilience and stability or to increased vulnerability and criticality remains one of the dominant questions in ecology. We present a combined theoretical and empirical study of complex dynamics in mineralogenic salt marsh ecosystems that emerge from a positive feedback between clay accumulation and plant growth. Positive feedback induces self-organizing within the ecosystem, which buffers for the strong physical gradient that characterizes the marine-terrestrial boundary, and improves plant growth along the gradient. However, as a consequence of these self-organizing properties, salt marshes approach a critical state as the edge of the salt marsh and the adjacent intertidal flat becomes increasingly steep and vulnerable to wave attack. Disturbance caused, for instance, by a storm may induce a cascade of vegetation collapse and severe erosion on the cliff edge, leading to salt marsh destruction. Our study shows that on short timescales, self-organization improves the functioning of salt marsh ecosystems. On long timescales, however, self-organization may lead to destruction of salt marsh vegetation.

PMID:
15729634
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
PubMed Commons home

PubMed Commons

0 comments
How to join PubMed Commons

    Supplemental Content

    Full text links

    Icon for University of Chicago Press
    Loading ...
    Write to the Help Desk