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Synthetic soil crusts against green-desert transitions: a spatial model

Citation

Sardanyés, Josep; Vidiella, Blai; Solé, Ricard (2020), Synthetic soil crusts against green-desert transitions: a spatial model, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.wm37pvmj6

Abstract

Semiarid ecosystems are threatened by global warming due to longer dehydration times and increasing soil degradation. Mounting evidences indicate that, given the current trends, drylands are likely to expand and possibly experience catastrophic shifts from vegetated to desert states. Here we explore a recent suggestion based on the concept of ecosystem terraformation, where a synthetic organism is used to counterbalance some of the nonlinear effects causing the presence of such tipping points. Using an explicit spatial model incorporating facilitation and considering a simplification of states found in semiarid ecosystems i.e., vegetation, fertile and desert soil, we investigate how engineered microorganisms can shape the fate of these ecosystems. Specifically, two different, but complementary, terraformation strategies are proposed: Cooperation-based: C-terraformation; and Dispersion-based: D-terraformation. The first strategy involves the use of soil synthetic microorganisms to introduce cooperative loops (facilitation) with the vegetation. The second one involves the introduction of engineered microorganisms improving their dispersal capacity, thus facilitating the transition from desert to fertile soil. We show that small modifications enhancing cooperative loops can effectively change the location of the critical transition found at increasing soil degradation rates, also identifying a stronger protection against soil degradation by using the D-terraformation strategy. The same results are found in a mean field model providing insights into the transitions and dynamics tied to these terraformation strategies. The potential consequences and extensions of these models are discussed.

Methods

This is the code of the cellular automation