A putative mechanism for bog patterning

M. Rietkerk, S.C. Dekker, M.J. Wassen, A.W.M. Verkroost, M.F.P. Bierkens

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

115 Citations (Scopus)


The surface of bogs commonly shows various spatial vegetation patterning. Typical are ¿string patterns¿ consisting of regular densely vegetated bands oriented perpendicular to the slope. Here, we report on regular ¿maze patterns¿ on flat ground, consisting of bands densely vegetated by vascular plants in a more sparsely vegetated matrix of nonvascular plant communities. We present a model reproducing these maze and string patterns, describing how nutrient-limited vascular plants are controlled by, and in turn control, both hydrology and solute transport. We propose that the patterns are self-organized and originate from a nutrient accumulation mechanism. In the model, this is caused by the convective transport of nutrients in the groundwater toward areas with higher vascular plant biomass, driven by differences in transpiration rate. In a numerical bifurcation analysis we show how the maze patterns originate from the spatially homogeneous equilibrium and how this is affected by changes in rainfall, nutrient input, and plant properties. Our results confirm earlier model results, showing that redistribution of a limiting resource may lead to fine-scale facilitative and coarse-scale competitive plant interactions in different ecosystems. Self-organization in ecosystems may be a more general phenomenon than previously thought, which can be mechanistically linked to scale-dependent facilitation and competition.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)699-708
JournalAmerican Naturalist
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2004


  • semiarid grazing systems
  • self-organization
  • vegetation
  • peatlands
  • ecosystems
  • dynamics
  • origin

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