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Catastrophe Theory: A Unified Paradigm for Rangeland Ecosystem Dynamics

Jeffrey A. Lockwood and Dale R. Lockwood
Journal of Range Management
Vol. 46, No. 4 (Jul., 1993), pp. 282-288
DOI: 10.2307/4002459
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4002459
Page Count: 7
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Catastrophe Theory: A Unified Paradigm for Rangeland Ecosystem Dynamics
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Abstract

Rangeland ecologists have elucidated 2 apparently distinct processes underlying rangeland dynamics. In some cases, disturbed or recovering rangelands move through a gradual, continuous series of changes which has been termed succession. In other instances, rangeland dynamics are typified by sudden, discontinuous changes in the vegetation, and this has been called state-and-transition. Catastrophe theory is a mathematical framework designed for the study of discontinuous phenomena, but it also generates models that permit continuous dynamics. Based on available literature, it appears that rangeland ecosystems conform to the mathematics of catastrophe theory. Rangelands exhibit the 5 essential symptoms of catastrophe systems: modality (distinct conditions or states of existence), inaccessibility (conditions which are very unstable), sudden changes (relatively rapid movement between states), hysteresis (processes associated with degradation or recovery are not readily reversible by simply inverting the sequence of events), and divergence (relatively small changes in initial conditions can result in dramatically different outcomes with time). Catastrophe theory has been successfully used to model rangeland grasshopper population dynamics, and it appears that many of the same control variables affecting insects (e.g., temperature and precipitation) may also underlie vegetative community dynamics. Application of catastrophe theory to empirical data sets will require relatively long-term but low-intensity research efforts.

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