A multidisciplinary approach to pattern formation in ecosystems
Van Leeuwenhoek Lecture on BioScience.
Johan van de Koppel studied biology at Groningen University and obtained his PhD also in Groningen (1997). He has been a postdoc at Wageningen University and still is a senior researcher at the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research (NIOZ) in Yerseke. Since November 2011 he is an honorary professor in the spatial ecology of intertidal systems, and spatial ecology in general at the University of Groningen (RUG).
Most examples of self-organized spatial patterns in ecosystems are based on Alan Turing’s activator-inhibitor principle, where pattern formation is driven by spatial variation in biological growth conditions. I will highlight a new mechanism of pattern formation in ecosystems that is based on animal movement, and is akin to the physical principle for phase separation, known to explain pattern formation in alloys such as steel or bronze. Using models and experiments, I will argue that both processes can occur simultaneously, and interact to determine the resilience of ecosystems to disturbances and changing environmental conditions.