Patterned vegetation, tipping points, and the rate of climate change

Yuxin Chen, Theodore Kolokolnikov, Justin Tzou, Chunyi Gai

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

15 Citations (Scopus)


When faced with slowly depleting resources (such as decrease in precipitation due to climate change), complex ecological systems are prone to sudden irreversible changes (such as desertification) as the resource level dips below a tipping point of the system. A possible coping mechanism is the formation of spatial patterns, which allows for concentration of sparse resources and the survival of the species within “ecological niches” even below the tipping point of the homogeneous vegetation state. However, if the change in resource availability is too sudden, the system may not have time to transition to the patterned state and will pass through the tipping point instead, leading to extinction. We argue that the deciding factors are the speed of resource depletion and the amount of the background noise (seasonal climate changes) in the system. We illustrate this phenomenon on a model of patterned vegetation. Our analysis underscores the importance of, and the interplay between, the speed of climate change, heterogeneity of the environment, and the amount of seasonal variability.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)945-958
Number of pages14
JournalEuropean Journal of Applied Mathematics
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • delayed bifurcations
  • stochastic PDE’s
  • turing instability
  • climate change
  • patched vegetation
  • stochastic PDE's
  • Turing instability

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