Abstract: In tropical regions, fires propagate readily in grasslands but typically consume only edges of forest patches. Thus forest patches grow due to tree propagation and shrink by fires in surrounding grasslands. The interplay between these competing edge effects is unknown, but critical in determining the shape and stability of individual forest patches, as well the landscape-level spatial distribution and stability of forests. We analyze high-resolution remote-sensing data from protected areas of the Brazilian Cerrado and find that forest shapes obey a robust perimeter-area scaling relation across climatic zones. We explain this scaling by introducing a heterogeneous fire propagation model of tropical forest-grassland ecotones. Deviations from this perimeter-area relation determine the stability of individual forest patches. At a larger scale, our model predicts that the relative rates of tree growth due to propagative expansion and long-distance seed dispersal determine whether collapse of regional-scale tree cover is continuous or discontinuous as fire frequency changes.
Abstract: Pathogens can spread epidemically through populations. Beneficial contagions, such as viruses that enhance host survival or technological innovations that improve quality of life, also have the potential to spread epidemically. How do the dynamics of beneficial biological and social epidemics differ from those of detrimental epidemics? We investigate this question using three theoretical approaches. First, in the context of population genetics, we show that a horizontally-transmissible element that increases fitness, such as viral DNA, spreads superexponentially through a population, more quickly than a beneficial mutation. Second, in the context of behavioral epidemiology, we show that infections that cause increased connectivity lead to superexponential fixation in the population. Third, in the context of dynamic social networks, we find that preferences for increased global infection accelerate spread and produce superexponential fixation, but preferences for local assortativity halt epidemics by disconnecting the infected from the susceptible. We conclude that the dynamics of beneficial biological and social epidemics are characterized by the rapid spread of beneficial elements, which is facilitated in biological systems by horizontal transmission and in social systems by active spreading behavior of infected individuals.