Landscape Ecology

, Volume 24, Issue 1, pp 1–13 | Cite as

Alternative stable states in Australia’s Wet Tropics: a theoretical framework for the field data and a field-case for the theory

  • Laura WarmanEmail author
  • Angela T. Moles


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.


Resilience Bistability Rainforest Sclerophyll Fire Positive feedbacks Management 



This project was begun at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, and continued at The University of New South Wales, Australia. We thank both universities for scholarships awarded to LW. We also thank J. Warman and D. Hilbert for insightful discussion on the manuscript, as well as J. van de Koppel, F. J. Weissing and three anonymous reviewers for their comments and suggestions on earlier drafts.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Evolution & Ecology Research Centre, School of Biological, Earth and Environmental SciencesUniversity of New South WalesSydneyAustralia
  2. 2.School of Biological SciencesVictoria University of WellingtonWellingtonNew Zealand

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