Royal Society of Open Science publishes Terraforming the Biosphere

Ecosystems are complex systems, currently experiencing
several threats associated with global warming, intensive
exploitation and human-driven habitat degradation. Because
of a general presence of multiple stable states, including
states involving population extinction, and due to the intrinsic
nonlinearities associated with feedback loops, collapse in
ecosystems could occur in a catastrophic manner. It has been
recently suggested that a potential path to prevent or modify
the outcome of these transitions would involve designing
synthetic organisms and synthetic ecological interactions that
could push these endangered systems out of the critical
boundaries. In this paper, we investigate the dynamics of the
simplest mathematical models associated with four classes
of ecological engineering designs, named Terraformation motifs
(TMs). These TMs put in a nutshell different ecological
strategies. In this context, some fundamental types of
bifurcations pervade the systems’ dynamics. Mutualistic
interactions can enhance persistence of the systems by means
of saddle-node bifurcations. The models without cooperative
interactions show that ecosystems achieve restoration through
transcritical bifurcations. Thus, our analysis of the models
allows us to define the stability conditions and parameter
domains where these TMs must work.

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