Autocatalysis in Ecology

In systems ecology, autocatalysis is regarded as a generalized form of mutualism, that is, an association between organisms of two different species in which each member benefits. In systems ecology focus remains more on processes and less on objects. Hence, an autocatalytic configuration of two or more ecological processes is one in which the processes can be arrayed in a closed cycle, wherein each process in the cycle facilitates the next. Without loss of generality, one may focus on a serial, circular conjunction of three processes - A, B, and C (Figure 1). Thus, any increase in the rate of process A is likely to induce a corresponding increase in process B, which in turn elicits an increase in process C, and whence back to A.

A didactic example of autocatalysis in ecology is the community that builds around the aquatic macrophyte,

Figure 1 Schematic of a hypothetical three-component autocatalytic cycle.

Figure 1 Schematic of a hypothetical three-component autocatalytic cycle.

Utricularia (commonly called Bladderwort). All members of the genus Utricularia are carnivorous plants. Scattered along its feather-like stems and leaves are small bladders, called utricles (Figure 2a). Each utricle has a few

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