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Record number 496959
Title When can positive interactions cause alternative stable states in ecosystems?
Author(s) Kéfi, Sonia; Holmgren, Milena; Scheffer, Marten
Source Functional Ecology 30 (2016)1. - ISSN 0269-8463 - p. 88 - 97.
Department(s) Resource Ecology
Aquatic Ecology and Water Quality Management
Publication type Refereed Article in a scientific journal
Publication year 2016
Keyword(s) Alternative stable state - Bistability - Critical transition - Facilitation - Hysteresis - Multi-stability - Negative feedback loop - Positive feedback loop - Resilience - Tipping point

After a period of heavy emphasis on negative interactions, such as predation and competition, the past two decades have seen an explosion of literature on the role of positive interactions in ecological communities. Such positive interactions can take many forms. One possibility is that amelioration of environmental stress by plants or sessile animals enhances growth, reproduction and survival of others, but many more intricate patterns exist. Importantly such positive interactions may contribute to creating a positive feedback. For instance, biomass can lead to improved environmental conditions causing better growth and therefore leading to more biomass. A positive feedback is a necessary (but not sufficient) condition for the emergence of alternative stable states at the community scale. However, the literature on positive interactions in plant and animal communities rarely addresses this connection. Here, we address this gap, asking the question of when positive interactions may lead to alternative stable states, and hence set the stage for catastrophic transitions at tipping points in ecosystems. We argue that, although there are a number of now classical examples in the literature for which positive interactions are clearly the main actors of positive feedback loops, more empirical and theoretical research scaling up from the individual-level interactions to the community and the ecosystem scale processes is needed to further understand under which conditions positive interactions can trigger positive feedback loops, and thereby alternative stable states.

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