Local facilitation, bistability and transitions in arid ecosystems

S. Kefi, M. Rietkerk, M. van Baalen, M. Loreau

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89 Citations (Scopus)


Arid ecosystems are liable to undergo sudden discontinuous transitions from a vegetated to a desert state as a result of human pressure and climate change. A predictive framework about the conditions under which such transitions occur is lacking. Here, we derive and analyze a general model describing the spatial dynamics of vegetation in arid ecosystems considering local facilitation as an essential process. We investigate the conditions under which continuous or discontinuous transitions from a vegetated to a desert state are likely to occur. We focus on arid ecosystems but our approach is sufficiently general to be applied to other ecosystems with severe environmental conditions. The model exhibits bistability and vegetation patchiness. High local facilitation decreases the risk of discontinuous transitions. Moreover, for arid ecosystems where local facilitation is a driving process, vegetation patchiness indicates proximity to a transition point, but does not allow distinguishing between continuous and discontinuous transitions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)367-379
JournalTheoretical Population Biology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2007


  • semiarid grazing systems
  • alternate stable states
  • plant-communities
  • self-organization
  • positive interactions
  • vegetation patterns
  • catastrophic shifts
  • competition
  • population
  • dynamics

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