Top-down control inhibits spatial self-organization of a patterned landscape

E.J. Weerman, P.M.J. Herman, J. Van de Koppel

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    Abstract

    Regular, self-organized spatial patterns in primary producers have been described in a wide range of ecosystems and are predicted to affect community production and resilience. Although consumers are abundant in most systems, the effect of trophic interactions on pattern formation in primary producers remains unstudied. We studied the effects of top-down control by herbivores on a self-organized landscape of regularly spaced, diatom-covered hummocks alternating with water-filled hollows on an intertidal mudflat in The Netherlands. Spatial patterns developed during spring but were followed by a rapid collapse in summer, leading to a flat landscape with low diatom densities and little variation in sediment bed level. This dramatic decline co-occurred with a gradual increase of benthic herbivores. A manipulative field experiment, where benthic herbivores were removed from the sediment, revealed that both diatom growth and hummock formation were inhibited by the activity of benthic herbivores. Our study provides clear evidence of top-down control of spatial selforganized patterns by benthic herbivores within a biological–geomorphic landscape.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)487-495
    JournalEcology
    Volume92
    Issue number2
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - 2011

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