Data_Sheet_1_The Impact of Spatial and Temporal Dimensions of Disturbances on Ecosystem Stability.pdf (1.12 MB)

Data_Sheet_1_The Impact of Spatial and Temporal Dimensions of Disturbances on Ecosystem Stability.pdf

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posted on 21.12.2018 by Yuval R. Zelnik, Jean-François Arnoldi, Michel Loreau

Ecosystems constantly face disturbances which vary in their spatial and temporal features, yet little is known on how these features affect ecosystem recovery and persistence, i.e., ecosystem stability. We address this issue by considering three ecosystem models with different local dynamics, and ask how their stability properties depend on the spatial and temporal properties of disturbances. We measure the spatial dimension of disturbances by their spatial extent while controlling for their overall strength, and their temporal dimension by the average frequency of random disturbance events. Our models show that the return to equilibrium following a disturbance depends strongly on the disturbance's extent, due to rescue effects mediated by dispersal. We then reveal a direct relation between the temporal variability caused by repeated disturbances and the recovery from an isolated disturbance event. Although this could suggest a trivial dependency of ecosystem response on disturbance frequency, we find that this is true only up to a frequency threshold, which depends on both the disturbance spatial features and the ecosystem dynamics. Beyond this threshold the response changes qualitatively, displaying spatial clusters of disturbed regions, causing an increase in variability, and even a system-wide collapse for ecosystems with alternative stable states. Thus, spanning the spatial dimension of disturbances is a way to probe the underlying dynamics of an ecosystem. Furthermore, considering spatial and temporal dimensions of disturbances in conjunction is necessary to predict ecosystem responses with dramatic ecological consequences, such as regime shifts or population extinction.

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