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  1. Abstract

    Synchronous dynamics (fluctuations that occur in unison) are universal phenomena with widespread implications for ecological stability. Synchronous dynamics can amplify the destabilizing effect of environmental variability on ecosystem functions such as productivity, whereas the inverse, compensatory dynamics, can stabilize function. Here we combine simulation and empirical analyses to elucidate mechanisms that underlie patterns of synchronous versus compensatory dynamics. In both simulated and empirical communities, we show that synchronous and compensatory dynamics are not mutually exclusive but instead can vary by timescale. Our simulations identify multiple mechanisms that can generate timescale‐specific patterns, including different environmental drivers, diverse life histories, dispersal, and non‐stationary dynamics. We find that traditional metrics for quantifying synchronous dynamics are often biased toward long‐term drivers and may miss the importance of short‐term drivers. Our findings indicate key mechanisms to consider when assessing synchronous versus compensatory dynamics and our approach provides a pathway for disentangling these dynamics in natural systems.

     
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  2. Abstract

    The storage and cycling of soil organic carbon (SOC) are governed by multiple co-varying factors, including climate, plant productivity, edaphic properties, and disturbance history. Yet, it remains unclear which of these factors are the dominant predictors of observed SOC stocks, globally and within biomes, and how the role of these predictors varies between observations and process-based models. Here we use global observations and an ensemble of soil biogeochemical models to quantify the emergent importance of key state factors – namely, mean annual temperature, net primary productivity, and soil mineralogy – in explaining biome- to global-scale variation in SOC stocks. We use a machine-learning approach to disentangle the role of covariates and elucidate individual relationships with SOC, without imposing expected relationshipsa priori. While we observe qualitatively similar relationships between SOC and covariates in observations and models, the magnitude and degree of non-linearity vary substantially among the models and observations. Models appear to overemphasize the importance of temperature and primary productivity (especially in forests and herbaceous biomes, respectively), while observations suggest a greater relative importance of soil minerals. This mismatch is also evident globally. However, we observe agreement between observations and model outputs in select individual biomes – namely, temperate deciduous forests and grasslands, which both show stronger relationships of SOC stocks with temperature and productivity, respectively. This approach highlights biomes with the largest uncertainty and mismatch with observations for targeted model improvements. Understanding the role of dominant SOC controls, and the discrepancies between models and observations, globally and across biomes, is essential for improving and validating process representations in soil and ecosystem models for projections under novel future conditions.

     
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  3. Abstract

    Synchrony is broadly important to population and community dynamics due to its ubiquity and implications for extinction dynamics, system stability, and species diversity. Investigations of synchrony in community ecology have tended to focus on covariance in the abundances of multiple species in a single location. Yet, the importance of regional environmental variation and spatial processes in community dynamics suggests that community properties, such as species richness, could fluctuate synchronously across patches in a metacommunity, in an analog of population spatial synchrony. Here, we test the prevalence of this phenomenon and the conditions under which it may occur using theoretical simulations and empirical data from 20 marine and terrestrial metacommunities. Additionally, given the importance of biodiversity for stability of ecosystem function, we posit that spatial synchrony in species richness is strongly related to stability. Our findings show that metacommunities often exhibit spatial synchrony in species richness. We also found that richness synchrony can be driven by environmental stochasticity and dispersal, two mechanisms of population spatial synchrony. Richness synchrony also depended on community structure, including species evenness and beta diversity. Strikingly, ecosystem stability was more strongly related to richness synchrony than to species richness itself, likely because richness synchrony integrates information about community processes and environmental forcing. Our study highlights a new approach for studying spatiotemporal community dynamics and emphasizes the spatial dimensions of community dynamics and stability.

     
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  4. Abstract

    Dissolved organic carbon (DOC) and nitrogen (DON) are important energy and nutrient sources for aquatic ecosystems. In many northern temperate, freshwater systems DOC has increased in the past 50 years. Less is known about how changes in DOC may vary across latitudes, and whether changes in DON track those of DOC. Here, we present long‐term DOC and DON data from 74 streams distributed across seven sites in biomes ranging from the tropics to northern boreal forests with varying histories of atmospheric acid deposition. For each stream, we examined the temporal trends of DOC and DON concentrations and DOC:DON molar ratios. While some sites displayed consistent positive or negative trends in stream DOC and DON concentrations, changes in direction or magnitude were inconsistent at regional or local scales. DON trends did not always track those of DOC, though DOC:DON ratios increased over time for ~30% of streams. Our results indicate that the dissolved organic matter (DOM) pool is experiencing fundamental changes due to the recovery from atmospheric acid deposition. Changes in DOC:DON stoichiometry point to a shifting energy‐nutrient balance in many aquatic ecosystems. Sustained changes in the character of DOM can have major implications for stream metabolism, biogeochemical processes, food webs, and drinking water quality (including disinfection by‐products). Understanding regional and global variation in DOC and DON concentrations is important for developing realistic models and watershed management protocols to effectively target mitigation efforts aimed at bringing DOM flux and nutrient enrichment under control.

     
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  5. Abstract

    A comprehensive cross‐biome assessment of major nitrogen (N) species that includes dissolved organic N (DON) is central to understanding interactions between inorganic nutrients and organic matter in running waters. Here, we synthesize stream water N chemistry across biomes and find that the composition of the dissolved N pool shifts from highly heterogeneous to primarily comprised of inorganic N, in tandem with dissolved organic matter (DOM) becoming more N‐rich, in response to nutrient enrichment from human disturbances. We identify two critical thresholds of total dissolved N (TDN) concentrations where the proportions of organic and inorganic N shift. With low TDN concentrations (0–1.3 mg/L N), the dominant form of N is highly variable, and DON ranges from 0% to 100% of TDN. At TDN concentrations above 2.8 mg/L, inorganic N dominates the N pool and DON rarely exceeds 25% of TDN. This transition to inorganic N dominance coincides with a shift in the stoichiometry of the DOM pool, where DOM becomes progressively enriched in N and DON concentrations are less tightly associated with concentrations of dissolved organic carbon (DOC). This shift in DOM stoichiometry (defined as DOC:DON ratios) suggests that fundamental changes in the biogeochemical cycles of C and N in freshwater ecosystems are occurring across the globe as human activity alters inorganic N and DOM sources and availability. Alterations to DOM stoichiometry are likely to have important implications for both the fate of DOM and its role as a source of N as it is transported downstream to the coastal ocean.

     
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  6. Abstract

    Global change is impacting plant community composition, but the mechanisms underlying these changes are unclear. Using a dataset of 58 global change experiments, we tested the five fundamental mechanisms of community change: changes in evenness and richness, reordering, species gains and losses. We found 71% of communities were impacted by global change treatments, and 88% of communities that were exposed to two or more global change drivers were impacted. Further, all mechanisms of change were equally likely to be affected by global change treatments—species losses and changes in richness were just as common as species gains and reordering. We also found no evidence of a progression of community changes, for example, reordering and changes in evenness did not precede species gains and losses. We demonstrate that all processes underlying plant community composition changes are equally affected by treatments and often occur simultaneously, necessitating a wholistic approach to quantifying community changes.

     
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  7. Abstract

    Ecosystems across the United States are changing in complex ways that are difficult to predict. Coordinated long‐term research and analysis are required to assess how these changes will affect a diverse array of ecosystem services. This paper is part of a series that is a product of a synthesis effort of the U.S. National Science Foundation’s Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) network. This effort revealed that each LTER site had at least one compelling scientific case study about “what their site would look like” in 50 or 100 yr. As the site results were prepared, themes emerged, and the case studies were grouped into separate papers along five themes: state change, connectivity, resilience, time lags, and cascading effects and compiled into this special issue. This paper addresses the time lags theme with five examples from diverse biomes including tundra (Arctic), coastal upwelling (California Current Ecosystem), montane forests (Coweeta), and Everglades freshwater and coastal wetlands (Florida Coastal Everglades) LTER sites. Its objective is to demonstrate the importance of different types of time lags, in different kinds of ecosystems, as drivers of ecosystem structure and function and how these can effectively be addressed with long‐term studies. The concept that slow, interactive, compounded changes can have dramatic effects on ecosystem structure, function, services, and future scenarios is apparent in many systems, but they are difficult to quantify and predict. The case studies presented here illustrate the expanding scope of thinking about time lags within the LTER network and beyond. Specifically, they examine what variables are best indicators of lagged changes in arctic tundra, how progressive ocean warming can have profound effects on zooplankton and phytoplankton in waters off the California coast, how a series of species changes over many decades can affect Eastern deciduous forests, and how infrequent, extreme cold spells and storms can have enduring effects on fish populations and wetland vegetation along the Southeast coast and the Gulf of Mexico. The case studies highlight the need for a diverse set of LTER (and other research networks) sites to sort out the multiple components of time lag effects in ecosystems.

     
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  8. Abstract

    Synthesis research in ecology and environmental science improves understanding, advances theory, identifies research priorities, and supports management strategies by linking data, ideas, and tools. Accelerating environmental challenges increases the need to focus synthesis science on the most pressing questions. To leverage input from the broader research community, we convened a virtual workshop with participants from many countries and disciplines to examine how and where synthesis can address key questions and themes in ecology and environmental science in the coming decade. Seven priority research topics emerged: (1) diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice (DEIJ), (2) human and natural systems, (3) actionable and use‐inspired science, (4) scale, (5) generality, (6) complexity and resilience, and (7) predictability. Additionally, two issues regarding the general practice of synthesis emerged: the need for increased participant diversity and inclusive research practices; and increased and improved data flow, access, and skill‐building. These topics and practices provide a strategic vision for future synthesis in ecology and environmental science.

     
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  9. Abstract

    Soil organic carbon (SOC) regulates terrestrial ecosystem functioning, provides diverse energy sources for soil microorganisms, governs soil structure, and regulates the availability of organically bound nutrients. Investigators in increasingly diverse disciplines recognize how quantifying SOC attributes can provide insight about ecological states and processes. Today, multiple research networks collect and provide SOC data, and robust, new technologies are available for managing, sharing, and analyzing large data sets. We advocate that the scientific community capitalize on these developments to augment SOC data sets via standardized protocols. We describe why such efforts are important and the breadth of disciplines for which it will be helpful, and outline a tiered approach for standardized sampling of SOC and ancillary variables that ranges from simple to more complex. We target scientists ranging from those with little to no background in soil science to those with more soil‐related expertise, and offer examples of the ways in which the resulting data can be organized, shared, and discoverable.

     
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  10. Abstract

    Fluctuations in population abundances are often correlated through time across multiple locations, a phenomenon known as spatial synchrony. Spatial synchrony can exhibit complex spatial structures, termed ‘geographies of synchrony’, that can reveal mechanisms underlying population fluctuations. However, most studies have focused on spatial extents of 10s to 100s of kilometres, making it unclear how synchrony concepts and approaches should apply to dynamics at finer spatial scales.

    We used network analyses, multiple regression on similarity matrices, and wavelet coherence analyses to examine micro‐scale synchrony and geographies of synchrony, over distances up to 30 m, in a serpentine grassland plant community.

    We found that species' populations exhibited a geography of synchrony even over such short distances. Often, well‐synchronized populations were geographically separate, a spatial structure that was shaped mainly by gopher disturbance and dispersal limitation, and to a lesser extent by relationships with other plant species. Precipitation was a significant driver of site‐ and community‐wide temporal dynamics. Gopher disturbance appeared to drive synchrony on 2‐ to 6‐year timescales, and we detected coherent fluctuations among pairs of focal plant taxa.

    Synthesis. Micro‐geographies of synchrony are an intriguing phenomenon that may also help us better understand community dynamics. Additionally, the related geographies of synchrony and coherent temporal dynamics among some species pairs indicate that incorporating interspecific interactions can improve understanding of population spatial synchrony.

     
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