Spatial self-organization is the main theoretical explanation for the global occurrence of regular or otherwise coherent spatial patterns in ecosystems. Using mussel beds as a model ecosystem, we provide an experimental demonstration of spatial self-organization. Under homogeneous laboratory conditions, mussels developed regular patterns, similar to those in the field. An individual-based model derived from our experiments showed that interactions between individuals explained the observed patterns. Furthermore, a field study showed that pattern formation affected ecosystem-level processes in terms of improved growth and resistance to wave action. Our results imply that spatial self-organization is an important determinant of the structure and functioning of ecosystems, and it needs to be considered in their conservation.
Van de Koppel, J., Gascoigne, J. C., Theraulaz, G., Rietkerk, M., Mooij, W. M., & Herman, P. M. J. (2008). Experimental evidence for spatial self-organization and its emergent effects in mussel beds ecosystems. Science Magazine, 322(5902), 739-742. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1163952