Putting self‐organization to the test: labyrinthine patterns as optimal solution for persistence

Camilla Bertolini*, Brenda Cornelissen, Jacob Capelle, Johan Van De Koppel, Tjeerd J. Bouma

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)


Spatial patterns formed through the process of self-organization are found in nature across a variety of ecosystems. Pattern formation may reduce the costs of competition while maximizing the benefits of group living, and thus promote ecosystem persistence. This leads to the prediction that self-organizing to obtain locally intermediate densities will be the optimal solution to balance costs and benefits. However, despite much evidence documenting pattern formation in natural ecosystems, there is limited empirical evidence of how these patterns both influence and are influenced by tradeoffs between costs and benefits. Using mussels as a model system, we coupled field observations in mussel-culture plots with manipulative laboratory experiments to address the following hypotheses: 1) labyrinthine spatial patterns, characteristically found at intermediate to high patch densities, are the most persistent over time; this
is because labyrinthine patterns 2) result in adequately heavy patches that can maximize resistance to dislodgement while 3) increasing water turbulence with spacing, which will maximize food delivery processes. In the field, we observed that labyrinthine ‘stripes’ patterns are indeed the most persistent over time, confirming our first hypothesis. Furthermore, with laboratory experiments, we found the ‘stripes’ pattern to be highly resistant to dislodgement, confirming the second hypothesis. Finally, with regards to the third hypothesis, we found positive effects of this pattern on local turbulence. These results suggest that the mechanisms of intraspecific facilitation not only depend on initial organism densities, but may also be influenced by spatial patterning. We hence recommend taking into account spatial patterns to maximize productivity
and persistence in shellfish-cultivation practices and to increase the restoration success of ecosystems with self-organizing properties.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1805-1815
Number of pages11
Issue number12
Early online date8 Aug 2019
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2019


  • benthic dynamics
  • density-dependent
  • facilitation
  • habitat complexity
  • mussel beds
  • Self-organization


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