We study nonlinear, spatially extended complex systems with a current focus on dryland ecosystems. Drylands occupy about two fifths of the terrestrial Earth area and are home to over one third of the world population. Global warming and the projections for more frequent and intense droughts and heat waves put dryland ecosystems at risk of desertification, species-diversity loss and impaired ecosystem functioning. The response of dryland ecosystems to drier climates is likely to involve mechanisms operating at different organization levels. At the organism level plants can respond to environmental stresses by changing their phenotypes, at the population level they can self-organize to form regular and irregular spatial patterns of biota and resources, and at the community level they can reassemble in different community structures. We are interested in understanding coupled responses involving two or more organization levels, and their impact on ecosystem function. We are also interested in highlighting new directions for ecosystem management, aimed at mitigating or reversing degradation processes. Our ‘lab’ consists of a platform of mathematical models for dryland ecosystems, which we study numerically and analytically using state-of-the-art methods of pattern formation theory. We further collaborate with ecology groups to test model predictions empirically .
Pattern formation theory is essential for studying spatial ecology, but the relationship between the two research fields is reciprocal; not only can spatial ecology benefit from the concepts and tools of pattern formation theory, it can also pose new interesting questions in pattern-formation research, with possible applications to other fields of science. This motivates another significant part of our group activities. More on pattern formation theory and its applications to dryland ecosystems in the book Nonlinear Physics of Ecosystems .