Pattern formation in marine clonal plant meadows

Damia Gomila
IFISC (CSIC-UIB), Campus Universitat Illes Balears, 07122 Palma de Mallorca

Competition for water or nutrients or interactions with herbivores drive spatial instabilities in landscapes of terrestrial plants, resulting in pattern formation phenomena that have been a subject of intense research in the last years. Observations from aerial images and side -scan sonar data have recently revealed analogous pattern forming phenomena in submerged vegetation in the Mediterranean Sea, mainly in meadows of seagrasses such as Posidonia oceanica and Cymodocea nodosa. Starting from growth rules of these clonal plants, we have derived a macroscopic model for the plant density able to provide an explanation to the observed submarine hexagonal patterns or isolated ‘fairy circles’, and landscapes of spots and stripes. The essential ingredient is a competitive interaction at a distance of 20-30m. Beyond a qualitative description of the observed patterns, and their prevalence under different meadow conditions, the model fits well measurements of the population density of Posidonia, which show great variability close to the coast, where patterns typically appear.