Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Kansas
Lawrence, Kansas, United States
Ecosystem recovery is full of wicked problems. These problems arise from the complexity of interactions within a system which create feedbacks and nonlinear responses to management interventions. This in turn, can give rise to unintended consequences, including degraded alternative stable states. Degraded alternative stable states may resist restoration practices that simply try to recreate historic abiotic conditions. Instead, the re-establishment of functional ecosystem states may depend upon overcoming resistance thresholds (Suding et al. 2004). Despite the conceptual utility of the alternate stable state framework, it has offered few strategies to lower the barriers created by these resistance thresholds. Therefore, the intentional manipulation of ecosystems from one alternative stable state to another remains a critical challenge to management practices. Ecological nucleation is an emerging framework by which to address alternative stable states and promote ecosystem recovery. Nucleation is a process by which an initial patch of a desired state reaches a critical radius that lowers resistance thresholds and catalyzes rapid growth through local positive feedback dynamics. In this way, nucleation embodies vital connections between local scale interactions and landscape scale transitions between alternate stable states. By focusing on local interactions that can initialize an autocatalytic process that spreads in space, application of nucleation theory provides a promising way forward to boost the effectiveness of future management interventions related to alternative stable states that arise from anthropogenic disturbances. The goals of this symposium are to 1) present the ecological theory behind nucleation as it relates to alternative stable states, 2) demonstrate how nucleation can be leveraged to promote ecological recovery, and 3) to promote discussion about future research needs. This symposium will first provide participants with an in-depth look at the ecological underpinnings of nucleation. With this foundation and common vocabulary, we will then explore three detailed examples of nucleation in forest, grassland and salt marsh systems. Each of these examples will show direct connections to nucleation dynamics and demonstrate how nucleation can be leveraged to promote ecosystem recovery.
Presenting Author: Christine Angelini – Environmental Engineering Sciences, University of Florida
Presenting Author: Maarten B. Eppinga – Department of Geography, University of Zürich
Presenting Author: Karen D. Holl – Environmental Studies, University of California, Santa Cruz
Presenting Author: Theo Michaels – Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Kansas