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VI. Earth Life Emergence: Development of Body, Brain, Selves and Societies

7. Dynamic Ecosystems

Zhao, Li-Xia, et al. The Shaping Role of Self-Organization: Linking Vegetation Patterning, Plant Traits and Ecosystem Functioning. Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Vol.286/Iss.1900, 2019. When this section was first posted in the early 2000s, perceptions of self-organized natural complex dynamics were just beginning to dawn. A decade and a half later East China Normal University, Nanjing University, and Utrecht University ecologists contribute to recognitions of their broad scale, formative, beneficial presence. Notable factors in this achievement involve better (remote) sensing techniques, along with global research analysis and communications.

Self-organized spatial patterns are increasingly recognized for their contribution to ecosystem functioning, productivity, stability, and species diversity in terrestrial as well as marine ecosystems. Most studies of self-organization have focused on regular patterns. However, there is an abundance of patterns which are not strictly regular. Understanding of how they are formed and affect ecosystem function is crucial for the broad acceptance of self-organization in ecological theory. Field observations and experiments have revealed that self-organization involves a range of plant traits, including shoot-to-root ratio, rhizome orientation, node number and length, and enhances vegetation productivity. Moreover, patchiness in self-organized salt marshes can support a microhabitat for macrobenthos promoting a spatial heterogeneity of species richness. Our results extend existing concepts of self-organization and its effects on productivity and biodiversity to the spatial irregular patterns observed in many systems. (Abstract edits)

Zillio, Tommaso, et al. Incipient Criticality in Ecological Communities. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 105/18714, 2008. A team from Canada, the U. S., and Italy, that includes Jayanth Banavar, Jessica Green, John Harte, and Amos Maritan, finesses prior ‘relative species abundance’ and ‘species area relationship’ mathematics which were not able to discern a power-law scaling. A more generally applicable theory is now put forward that can indeed find this.

What is remarkable in critical phenomena is that, despite the immense variety of systems, there are just a few universality classes that depend only on essential features, such as the spatial dimensionality and the symmetry of the ordering. We find that, despite their apparent differences, the well-known fisher long series, the BCI forest, and the serpentine grassland have an underlying deep commonality and lie in the same university class. (18715)

Our work suggests that ecosystems are in a state of incipient criticality – they satisfy scaling relationships even in the absence of power-law behavior. This observation opens the attractive possibility of using the generalized scaling hypothesis as a model-independent means of linking ecological relationships beyond the species abundance relationship. (18716)

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