Pattern formation at multiple spatial scales drives the resilience of mussel bed ecosystems

Q. Liu, P.M.J. Herman, W.M. Mooij, J. Huisman, M. Scheffer, H. Olff, J. van de Koppel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

120 Citations (Scopus)


Self-organized complexity at multiple spatial scales is a distinctive characteristic of biological systems. Yet, little is known about how different self-organizing processes operating at different spatial scales interact to determine ecosystem functioning. Here we show that the interplay between self-organizing processes at individual and ecosystem level is a key determinant of the functioning and resilience of mussel beds. In mussel beds, self-organization generates spatial patterns at two characteristic spatial scales: small-scale net-shaped patterns due to behavioural aggregation of individuals, and large-scale banded patterns due to the interplay of between-mussel facilitation and resource depletion. Model analysis reveals that the interaction between these behavioural and ecosystem-level mechanisms increases mussel bed resilience, enables persistence under deteriorating conditions and makes them less prone to catastrophic collapse. Our analysis highlights that interactions between different forms of self-organization at multiple spatial scales may enhance the intrinsic ability of ecosystems to withstand both natural and human-induced disturbances.
Original languageEnglish
Article number5234
JournalNature Communications
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • self-organization
  • trade-offs
  • dynamics
  • systems
  • model


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