Belowground feedbacks as drivers of spatial self-organization and community assembly

Inderjit, Ragan M. Callaway, Ehud Meron

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


Vegetation patterning in water-limited and other resource-limited ecosystems highlights spatial self-organization processes as potentially key drivers of community assembly. These processes provide insight into predictable landscape-level relationships between organisms and their abiotic environment in the form of regular and irregular patterns of biota and resources. However, two aspects have largely been overlooked; the roles played by plant – soil-biota feedbacks and allelopathy in spatial self-organization, and their potential contribution, along with plant-resource feedbacks, to community assembly through spatial self-organization. Here, we expand the drivers of spatial self-organization from a focus on plant-resource feedbacks to include plant – soil-biota feedbacks and allelopathy, and integrate concepts of nonlinear physics and community ecology to generate a new hypothesis. According to this hypothesis, below-ground processes can affect community assemblages through two types of spatial self-organization, global and local. The former occurs simultaneously across whole ecosystems, leading to self-organized patterns of biota, allelochemicals and resources, and niche partitioning. The latter occurs locally in ecotones, and determines ecotone structure and motion, invasion dynamics, and species coexistence. Studies of the two forms of spatial self-organization are important for understanding the organization of plant communities in drier climates which are likely to involve spatial patterning or re-patterning. Such studies are also important for developing new practices of ecosystem management, based on local manipulations at ecotones, to slow invasion dynamics or induce transitions from transitive to intransitive networks of interspecific interactions which increase species diversity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-24
Number of pages24
JournalPhysics of Life Reviews
StatePublished - Sep 2021


  • Allelopathy
  • Ecotones
  • Invasion fronts
  • Plant-soil feedbacks
  • Scale-dependent feedbacks
  • Vegetation pattern formation


Dive into the research topics of 'Belowground feedbacks as drivers of spatial self-organization and community assembly'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this