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When are alternative stable states more likely to occur?

A reply to T. Fukami and W. G. Lee

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Abstract

T. Fukami and W. G. Lee argue that the logical expectation from ecological theory is that competitively-structured assemblages will be more likely to exhibit alternative stable states than abiotically-structured assemblages. We suggest that there are several important misinterpretations in their arguments, and that the substance of their hypothesis has both a weak basis in ecological theory and is not supported by empirical evidence which shows that alternative stable states occur more frequently in natural systems subject to moderate- to harsh abiotic extremes. While this debate is founded in ecological theory, it has important applied implications for restoration management. Sound theoretical predictions about when to expect alternative stable states can only aid more effective restoration if theoretical expectations can be shown to translate into predictable empirical outcomes. If strongly abiotically- or disturbance-structured systems are more likely to exhibit catastrophic phase shifts in community structure that can be resilient to management efforts, then restoration ecologists will need to treat these systems differently in terms of the types of management inputs that are required.

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