Patch dynamics in a landscape modified by ecosystem engineers


  • Justin P. Wright,

  • William S. C. Gurney,

  • Clive G. Jones

J. P. Wright Dept of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Cornell Univ., Ithaca, NY 14853, USA. Present address for JPW: Dept of Ecology, Evolution, and Environmental Biology, Columbia Univ., Schermerhorn Extension 1102C, 1200 Amsterdam Ave MC 5557, New York, NY 10027, USA ( – C. G. Jones, Institute of Ecosystem Studies, Millbrook, NY 12545, USA. – W. S. C. Gurney, Dept of Statistics and Modeling Science, Univ. of Strathclyde, Glasgow, Scotland, G1 1XH.


Ecosystem engineers, organisms that modify the environment, have the potential to dramatically alter ecosystem structure and function at large spatial scales. The degree to which ecosystem engineering produces large-scale effects is, in part, dependent on the dynamics of the patches that engineers create. Here we develop a set of models that links the population dynamics of ecosystem engineers to the dynamics of the patches that they create. We show that the relative abundance of different patch types in an engineered landscape is dependent upon the production of successful colonists from engineered patches and the rate at which critical resources are depleted by engineers and then renewed. We also consider the effects of immigration from either outside the system or from engineers that are present in non-engineered patches, and the effects of engineers that can recolonize patches before they are fully recovered on the steady state distribution of different patch types. We use data collected on the population dynamics of a model engineer, the beaver, to estimate the per-patch production rate of new colonists, the decay rate of engineered patches, and the recovery rate of abandoned patches. We use these estimated parameters as a baseline to determine the effects of varying parameters on the distribution of different patch types. We suggest a number of hypotheses that derive from model predictions and that could serve as tests of the model.