Spatial patterns formed through the process of self‐organization are found in nature across a variety of ecosystems. Pattern formation may reduce the costs of competition while maximizing the benefits of group living, and thus promote ecosystem persistence. This leads to the prediction that self‐organizing to obtain locally intermediate densities will be the optimal solution to balance costs and benefits. However, despite much evidence documenting pattern formation in natural ecosystems, there is limited empirical evidence of how these patterns both influence and are influenced by tradeoffs between costs and benefits. Using mussels as a model system, we coupled field observations in mussel‐culture plots with manipulative laboratory experiments to address the following hypotheses: 1) labyrinthine spatial patterns, characteristically found at intermediate to high patch densities, are the most persistent over time; this is because labyrinthine patterns 2) result in adequately heavy patches that can maximize resistance to dislodgement while 3) increasing water turbulence with spacing, which will maximize food delivery processes. In the field, we observed that labyrinthine ‘stripes’ patterns are indeed the most persistent over time, confirming our first hypothesis. Furthermore, with laboratory experiments, we found the ‘stripes’ pattern to be highly resistant to dislodgement, confirming the second hypothesis. Finally, with regards to the third hypothesis, we found positive effects of this pattern on local turbulence. These results suggest that the mechanisms of intraspecific facilitation not only depend on initial organism densities, but may also be influenced by spatial patterning. We hence recommend taking into account spatial patterns to maximize productivity and persistence in shellfish‐cultivation practices and to increase the restoration success of ecosystems with self‐organizing properties.
Financed by the National Centre for Research and Development under grant No. SP/I/1/77065/10 by the strategic scientific research and experimental development program:
SYNAT - “Interdisciplinary System for Interactive Scientific and Scientific-Technical Information”.