Alternative stable states in Australia’s Wet Tropics: a theoretical framework for the field data and a field-case for the theory
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- Warman, L. & Moles, A.T. Landscape Ecol (2009) 24: 1. doi:10.1007/s10980-008-9285-9
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The vegetation of the Wet Tropics bioregion of Far North Queensland is a complex system whose components (mainly tropical rainforests and fire-prone forests and woodlands) have mostly been studied independently from each other. We suggest that many characteristics of the vegetation are consistent with those of a complex, dynamic, spatially heterogeneous system which exhibits alternative stable states. We propose these states are driven and maintained by the interaction of vegetation-specific positive feedback loops with the regions’ environmental parameters (such as topography, steep humidity gradients and seasonality) and result in the rainforest/fire-prone vegetation mosaic that characterises the area. Given the regions’ magnitude, biodiversity and complexity, we propose the Wet Tropics as an important new example and a good testing ground for alternative stable state and resilience theories in large heterogeneous natural systems. At the same time, thinking in terms of alternative stable states and resilience creates a new context for understanding the regions’ biological dynamics.