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Navigating the complexity of ecological stability


Abstract

Human actions challenge nature in many ways. Ecological responses are ineluctably complex, demanding measures that describe them succinctly. Collectively, these measures encapsulate the overall ‘stability’ of the system. Many international bodies, including the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, broadly aspire to maintain or enhance ecological stability. Such bodies frequently use terms pertaining to stability that lack clear definition. Consequently, we cannot measure them and so they disconnect from a large body of theoretical and empirical understanding. We assess the scientific and policy literature and show that this disconnect is one consequence of an inconsistent and one-dimensional approach that ecologists have taken to both disturbances and stability. This has led to confused communication of the nature of stability and the level of our insight into it. Disturbances and stability are multi-dimensional. Our understanding of them is not. We have a remarkably poor understanding of the impacts on stability of the characteristics that define many, perhaps all, of the most important elements of global change. We provide recommendations for theoreticians, empiricists and policymakers on how to better integrate the multidimensional nature of ecological stability into their research, policies and actions.

Abstract

Human actions challenge nature in many ways. Ecological responses are ineluctably complex, demanding measures that describe them succinctly. Collectively, these measures encapsulate the overall ‘stability’ of the system. Many international bodies, including the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, broadly aspire to maintain or enhance ecological stability. Such bodies frequently use terms pertaining to stability that lack clear definition. Consequently, we cannot measure them and so they disconnect from a large body of theoretical and empirical understanding. We assess the scientific and policy literature and show that this disconnect is one consequence of an inconsistent and one-dimensional approach that ecologists have taken to both disturbances and stability. This has led to confused communication of the nature of stability and the level of our insight into it. Disturbances and stability are multi-dimensional. Our understanding of them is not. We have a remarkably poor understanding of the impacts on stability of the characteristics that define many, perhaps all, of the most important elements of global change. We provide recommendations for theoreticians, empiricists and policymakers on how to better integrate the multidimensional nature of ecological stability into their research, policies and actions.

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7 citations in Web of Science®
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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, further contribution
Communities & Collections:07 Faculty of Science > Institute of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies
Dewey Decimal Classification:570 Life sciences; biology
590 Animals (Zoology)
Language:English
Date:2016
Deposited On:21 Dec 2016 16:16
Last Modified:21 Dec 2016 16:16
Publisher:Wiley-Blackwell Publishing, Inc.
ISSN:1461-023X
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1111/ele.12648
PubMed ID:27432641

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