Growth, death, and resource competition in sessile organisms

Edward D. Lee, Christopher P. Kempes, and Geoffrey B. West

PNAS April 13, 2021 118 (15) e2020424118

Although termite mounds stand out as an example of remarkably regular patterns emerging over long times from local interactions, ecological spatial patterns range from regular to random, and temporal patterns range from transient to stable. We propose a minimal quantitative framework to unify this variety by accounting for how quickly sessile organisms grow and die mediated by competition for fluctuating resources. Building on metabolic scaling theory for forests, we reproduce a wide range of spatial patterns and predict transient features such as population shock waves that align with observations. By connecting diverse ecological dynamics, our work will help apply lessons from model systems more broadly (e.g., by leveraging remote mapping to infer local ecological conditions).

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