Spatial Pattern Enhances Ecosystem Functioning in an African Savanna
Doak, Daniel F.
Brody, Alison K.
Palmer, Todd M.
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CitationPringle, Robert M., Daniel F. Doak, Alison K. Brody, Rudy Jocqué, and Todd M. Palmer. 2010. Spatial Pattern Enhances Ecosystem Functioning in an African Savanna. PLoS Biology 8(5): e1000377.
AbstractThe finding that regular spatial patterns can emerge in nature from local interactions between organisms has prompted a
search for the ecological importance of these patterns. Theoretical models have predicted that patterning may have positive
emergent effects on fundamental ecosystem functions, such as productivity. We provide empirical support for this
prediction. In dryland ecosystems, termite mounds are often hotspots of plant growth (primary productivity). Using detailed
observations and manipulative experiments in an African savanna, we show that these mounds are also local hotspots of
animal abundance (secondary and tertiary productivity): insect abundance and biomass decreased with distance from the
nearest termite mound, as did the abundance, biomass, and reproductive output of insect-eating predators. Null-model
analyses indicated that at the landscape scale, the evenly spaced distribution of termite mounds produced dramatically
greater abundance, biomass, and reproductive output of consumers across trophic levels than would be obtained in
landscapes with randomly distributed mounds. These emergent properties of spatial pattern arose because the average
distance from an arbitrarily chosen point to the nearest feature in a landscape is minimized in landscapes where the features
are hyper-dispersed (i.e., uniformly spaced). This suggests that the linkage between patterning and ecosystem functioning
will be common to systems spanning the range of human management intensities. The centrality of spatial pattern to
system-wide biomass accumulation underscores the need to conserve pattern-generating organisms and mechanisms, and
to incorporate landscape patterning in efforts to restore degraded habitats and maximize the delivery of ecosystem services.
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