Noble, AE; Rosenstock, TS; Brown, PH; Machta, J; Hastings, A

Spatial patterning of periodic dynamics is a dramatic and ubiquitous ecological phenomenon arising in systems ranging from diseases to plants to mammals. The degree to which spatial correlations in cyclic dynamics are the result of endogenous factors related to local dynamics vs. exogenous forcing has been one of the central questions in ecology for nearly a century. With the goal of obtaining a robust explanation for correlations over space and time in dynamics that would apply to many systems, we base our analysis on the Ising model of statistical physics, which provides a fundamental mechanism of spatial patterning. We show, using 5 y of data on over 6,500 trees in a pistachio orchard, that annual nut production, in different years, exhibits both large-scale synchrony and self-similar, power-law decaying correlations consistent with the Ising model near criticality. Our approach demonstrates the possibility that short-range interactions can lead to long-range correlations over space and time of cyclic dynamics even in the presence of large environmental variability. We propose that root grafting could be the common mechanism leading to positive short-range interactions that explains the ubiquity of masting, correlated seed production over space through time, by trees.