Spatial heterogeneity enhance robustness of large multi-species ecosystems
Journal article, 2021
Understanding ecosystem stability and functioning is a long-standing goal in theoretical ecology, with one of the main tools being dynamical modelling of species abundances. With the help of spatially unresolved (well-mixed) population models and equilibrium dynamics, limits to stability and regions of various ecosystem robustness have been extensively mapped in terms of diversity (number of species), types of interactions, interaction strengths, varying interaction networks (for example plant-pollinator, food-web) and varying structures of these networks. Although many insights have been gained, the impact of spatial extension is not included in this body of knowledge. Recent studies of spatially explicit modelling on the other hand have shown that stability limits can be crossed and diversity increased for systems with spatial heterogeneity in species interactions and/or chaotic dynamics. Here we show that such crossing and diversity increase can appear under less strict conditions. We find that the mere possibility of varying species abundances at different spatial locations make possible the preservation or increase in diversity across previous boundaries thought to mark catastrophic transitions. In addition, we introduce and make explicit a multitude of different dynamics a spatially extended complex system can use to stabilise. This expanded stabilising repertoire of dynamics is largest at intermediate levels of dispersal. Thus we find that spatially extended systems with intermediate dispersal are more robust, in general have higher diversity and can stabilise beyond previous stability boundaries, in contrast to well-mixed systems.