Department of Mathematics, University of California Davis
"Spatial dynamics and spread of ecosystem engineers"
Ecosystem engineers are organisms characterized by interacting with other organisms thorough physical modifications of modifying their habitat. Examples of ecosystem engineers include Spartina alterniflora cordgrass or the zebra mussel Dreissena polymorpha. For both of these, the effect of modifying the environment can be non-local, affecting other regions farther away from the region populated by the ecosystem engineer. This shows the importance of understanding the population dynamics of ecosystem engineers in a spatial context. To do this we have developed the simplest spatially explicit model possible of ecosystem engineers, incorporating two local populations. We use this model to understand the relationship between dispersal and engineering effects, both at local and regional scales. Our main result is that the delayed Allee effect induced in the nonspatial model is extended to the spatial model, so the spread dynamics of an ecosystem engineer can be similar to the Allee case. However, there are more complex possibilities due to the effect of the environment modification.