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Self-organized Instability in Complex Ecosystems


  • Ricard V. Solé
  • David Alonso
  • Alan McKane


Why are some ecosystems so rich, but yet contain so many rare species? High species diversity, together with rarity, is a general trend in neotropical forests and coral reefs. But the origin of such diversity and the consequences of food web complexity in both species abundances and temporal fluctuations are not well understood. Several regularities are observed in complex, multispecies ecosystems that suggest that these ecologies might be organized close to points of instability. In this paper we further explore a recent stochastic model of population dynamics that is shown to reproduce: (1) the scaling law linking species number and connectivity; (2) the observed distributions of species-abundance reported from field studies (showing long tails and thus a predominance of rare species); (3) the complex fluctuations displayed by natural communities (including chaotic dynamics) and (4) the species-area relations displayed by rain-forest plots. It is conjectured that the conflict between the natural tendency towards higher diversity due to immigration and the ecosystem level constraints derived from increasing numbers of links, leaves the system poised at a critical boundary separating stable from unstable communities, where large fluctuations are expected to occur. We suggest that the patterns displayed by species-rich communities, including rarity, would result from such a spontaneous tendency towards instability.

Suggested Citation

  • Ricard V. Solé & David Alonso & Alan McKane, 2001. "Self-organized Instability in Complex Ecosystems," Working Papers 01-11-065, Santa Fe Institute.
  • Handle: RePEc:wop:safiwp:01-11-065

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    Complex ecosystems; criticality; scaling; species-area relations; species-abundance; self-organization;

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