Theoretical models predict that spatial self-organization can have important, unexpected implications by affecting the functioning of ecosystems in terms of resilience and productivity. Whether and how these emergent effects depend on specific formulations of the underlying mechanisms are questions that are often ignored. Here, we compare two alternative models of regular spatial pattern formation in mussel beds that have different mechanistic descriptions of the facilitative interactions between mussels. The first mechanism involves a reduced mussel loss rate at high density owing to mutual protection between the mussels, which is the basis of prior studies on the pattern formation in mussels. The second mechanism assumes, based on novel experimental evidence, that mussels feed more efficiently on top of mussel-generated hummocks. Model simulations point out that the second mechanism produces very similar types of spatial patterns in mussel beds. Yet the mechanisms predict a strikingly contrasting effect of these spatial patterns on ecosystem functioning, in terms of productivity and resilience. In the first model, where high mussel densities reduce mussel loss rates, patterns are predicted to strongly increase productivity and decrease the recovery time of the bed following a disturbance. When pattern formation is generated by increased feeding efficiency on hummocks, only minor emergent effects of pattern formation on ecosystem functioning are predicted. Our results provide a warning against predictions of the implications and emergent properties of spatial self-organization, when the mechanisms that underlie self-organization are incompletely understood and not based on the experimental study.
Original languageEnglish
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B-Biological Sciences
Journal publication date2012

ID: 151172