Considering temporal impacts on ecosystem stressors

A new paper from researchers at the Department of Zoology, published in Trends in Ecology and Evolution, argues that in order to predict responses to multiple stressors, time needs to be considered.

Environmental stressors include changes in temperature or invasions of new plants or wildlife. Currently, most studies to date assume that environmental stressors overlap in perfect synchrony in time, but this is rarely the case in reality. These stressors tend to have complex timelines, with discrete stressors, such as agricultural nutrient pollution, fluctuating in time, and continuous stressors, like global warming, increasing in severity over time.

The timing and duration of the initial impacts and recovery from stressors is particularly critical, and this paper argues that it is as important as the spatial component that has been the primary focus of most research so far. The order in which stressors occur, as well as their temporal overlap, has implications on how ecosystems respond, which in turn changes the way we should conserve and manage them.

The researchers argue that ecologists need to bring greater temporal realism to multiple stressor research to address some of the biggest challenges facing our rapidly changing world

Lead author Michelle Jackson says, ‘In the real world, stressors such as heatwaves and pollution events are asynchronous - we need to embrace this complexity to understand how they interact. In this paper, we explore how metabolic theory can be used to predict responses to temporally realistic stressors’

Studies so far have been small scale and simplistic, and the group has recently been awarded a NERC grant to run experiments that will attempt to recreate these temporal dynamics using large scale outdoor experiments.

Read the full study here.