InterJournal Complex Systems, 558
Status: Accepted
Manuscript Number: [558]
Submission Date: 20531
Revised On: 20911
A case study for self-organized criticality and complexity in forest landscape ecology
Author(s): Janine Bolliger

Subject(s): CX

Category: Brief Article


individual plant or animal landscapes to higher-level phenomena that can be approximated by general concepts. Since self-organized criticality is a very universal phenomenon occurring across a broad range of disciplines, it may serve as a tool to address the understanding of ecosystem complexity and function in a more general framework. The phenomenon of self-organized criticality is thus a powerful interdisciplinary approach for completion of some of the current theoretical frameworks (e.g., metapopulation theory, static equilibrium theory) with a profound understanding of how ecological feedback (e.g., resource limitations), internal interactions (e.g., selection, competition), or historical accident act together in order to understand how and why biotic units occur together on their current locations across ecosystems. The successes of physics give confidence that models using simple parameters can account for the general behavior of system complexity. This may be unlikely applied to ecology, where details in their spatio-temporal context often matter. However, critical phenomena are a field where the intuitive idea that large amounts of detail are needed to explain the observed complexity, does not hold true. Simple models, thus, have been successfully used in a variety of ecological fields to address theoretical as well as applied fields in ecology. In this paper, we investigated the historical landscape of southern Wisconsin (60,000 km2) for self-organized criticality and complexity. The landscape is patterned into prairies, savannas, open and closed forests, using data from the United States General Land Office Surveys that were conducted during the 19th century, at a time prior to Euro-American settlement. A simple cellular automaton replicates the fractal pattern of the forest landscape and predicts its evolution. Spatial distributions and temporal fluctuations in global quantities show power-law spectra, implying scale-invariance, characteristic of self-organized criticality. The evolution toward the self-organized critical state and the robustness of that state to perturbations are discussed.

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