New article by BiRN working group on agricultural landscape modification and distant ecosystem collapse

November 23, 2020


Around fifty years ago, Michael Rosenzweig posited that nutrient addition can destabilise food webs. Rosenzweig called this result the “paradox of enrichment”, arguing that nutrient increase ironically could result in biodiversity collapse. Despite this now seminal paper, little further theoretical work exists on understanding the relationship between productivity and stability, and certainly nothing synthetic has been produced. Further, empiricists have generally argued against the paradox.

algae blooms

In their article, “Landscape modification and nutrient-driven instability at a distance”, McCann et al. look at how nutrient application (fertilizer use) in farming has led to destabilized ecosystems in water bodies . McCann et al tie together Rosenzweig's paradox of enrichment with David Tilman, who argued that nutrient increase results in the dominance of an ecosystem by a limited number of species.  Importantly, their synthesis argues that one would expect, given human landscape modification, that the instability will generally happen at a great distance from the fertilizer applications. In essence, the instability is propagated rapidly across the landscape and alarmingly manifests 100s to 1000s of kms away.  

McCann et al. show a number of examples including our local Lake Erie, where run-off from fertilizer has resulted in algae blooms and large dead zones regularly. To read the article, published in Ecology Letters, please check out the link below: 

Landscape modification and nutrient‚Äźdriven instability at a distance - McCann - - Ecology Letters - Wiley Online Library