Thursday, October 3, 2019 - 3:00pm to 4:00pm
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Pierce 209, 29 Oxford St., Cambridge

Widely Applied Mathematics Seminar

"The Geometry of Ecosystems in a Changing World" with Corina Tarnita, Princeton University. 

Regular spatial patterns are common in natural systems—across organisms and scales—and can convey important information about those systems’ structure and function. In particular, large-scale regular vegetation patterns have been proposed as early warning indicators for ecosystem collapse. However, the underlying causes of vegetation patterns remain disputed and, therefore, assessing their consequences remains difficult. Whereas recent theory focuses on plant-water scale-dependent feedbacks as a potentially universal mechanism of pattern formation, a multitude of studies suggest that many regular spatial patterns result from territorial interference competition between colonies of social-insect ecosystem engineers, leading to hexagonally overdispersed nest sites and associated vegetation. I will review these mechanisms and discuss the available evidence. Furthermore, I will argue that, because these and other mechanisms of regular-pattern formation are not mutually exclusive and can coexist and interact at different scales, the prevailing theoretical outlook on spatial self-organization in ecology must expand to incorporate the dynamic interplay of multiple processes. I will propose a new framework that integrates across spatial scales and processes and I will use data from multiple continents to substantiate the theoretical findings. I will then conclude by discussing the implications of these results for ecosystem robustness.

Speaker Bio: Corina joined the Princeton Ecology and Evolutionary Biology faculty in February 2013. Previously she was a Junior Fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows (2010-2012) and a postdoctoral researcher with the Program for Evolutionary Dynamics, Harvard University (2009-2010). She obtained her B.A.('06), M.A.('08) and PhD ('09) in Mathematics from Harvard University. She is an Ecological Society of America Early Career Fellow, a Kavli Frontiers of Science Fellow of the National Academy of Sciences and an Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellow. Her work is centered around the emergence of complex behavior out of simple interactions, across spatial and temporal scales.

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Harvard University
Center for the Environment

Address: 26 Oxford Street, 4th Floor, Cambridge
Phone: (617) 495-0368

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