Pristine natural ecosystems can show a remarkable variety of spatial patterns. Examples are the banded patterns of mussel beds, or the stunning maze works that can be found in coral reefs. I study how these patterns are formed, and what makes then special for ecosystem functioning.
The study of Spatial Complexity
My primary interests are the processes that generate spatial complexity in ecosystems, in the form of spatial patterns, aggregations and fronts in marine intertidal ecosystems. I study the principles that underlie these processes, and how the pattern forming processes affect ecosystem functioning. The focus is on self-organized spatial complexity, e.g., patterns and other spatial structures that result from the interactions between organisms, or between organisms and their physical environment.
Integrating math with experiments
Integration of experimental and mathematical approaches is an important characteristic of my work. I try to develop general concepts that should work in many ecosystems, but provide clear-cut examples of these concepts in my study systems (mussel beds, salt marshes, intertidal flats), and try to experimentally test both the assumptions and predictions of these models.
Bringing the beauty of natural landscapes to the public
Human exploits, in particular agricultural practices, have in the past hundreds of years homogenised large parts of the global langscapes, especially in Western Europe. As a consequence, only a few people are still aware of the the landscape they now live in looked like when it was still in its natural state. By linking self-organisation models to visualisation software, I try to make these past landscapes visible to the general public, and try to convey to them how the functions of these past landscapes could help today’s problems.
Using self-organization for virtual ecosystems
Scientific results are not always easily accessible for the general public, creating a communication gap between science and society. To bridge this gap, I use modern computer graphics to visualise my self-organisation models, and to depict how the ecosystems would actually look like. Please look at my personal website for more information: http://johanvandekoppel.nl