Landscapes and ecosystems are complex systems with many feedback mechanisms acting between the various abiotic and biotic components. The knowledge about these interacting processes is mainly derived from mature ecosystems. The initial development of ecosystem complexity may involve state transitions following catastrophic shifts, disturbances, or transgression of thresholds. We propose a conceptual framework of feedback processes in early states of ecosystem development affected by spatiotemporal environmental drivers. To test this concept, we used 10-year time series of hydrological, biological, geomorphological, and soil data from the constructed catchment Chicken Creek.” The 6ha site was left to unrestricted development since 2005 and was intensively monitored. The data showed a very rapid development of the site with an increasing complexity and heterogeneity. In the first years, stochastic signals like the initial substrate conditions and external drivers like extreme weather events were the most important factors resulting in abiotic/abiotic feedback mechanisms shaping the morphology of the site and creating site diversity. Initial abiotic feedback mechanisms between water and substrate were soon followed by abiotic/biotic feedbacks between biological soil crusts, invading vegetation, geomorphology, and hydrology resulting in state transitions of catchment functioning.
Part of the book: Hydrology of Artificial and Controlled Experiments