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Experimental Evidence for Spatial Self-Organization and Its Emergent Effects in Mussel Bed Ecosystems

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Science  31 Oct 2008:
Vol. 322, Issue 5902, pp. 739-742
DOI: 10.1126/science.1163952

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Abstract

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.

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