Regular and Irregular Patterns in Semiarid Vegetation

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Science  11 Jun 1999:
Vol. 284, Issue 5421, pp. 1826-1828
DOI: 10.1126/science.284.5421.1826

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Vegetation in many semiarid regions is strikingly patterned, forming regular stripes on hillsides and irregular mosaics on flat ground. A simple model of plant and water dynamics based on ecologically realistic assumptions and with reasonable parameter values captures both of these types of patterns. The regular patterns result from a Turing-like instability; the irregular patterns arise when the ecological dynamics amplify slight small-scale topographic variability. Because of the close agreement between observations and these theoretical results, this system provides a clear example of how nonlinear mechanisms can be important in determining the spatial structure of plant communities.

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