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A unifying framework for studying and managing climate-driven rates of ecological change

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During the Anthropocene and other eras of rapidly changing climates, rates of change of ecological systems can be described as fast, slow or abrupt. Fast ecological responses closely track climate change, slow responses substantively lag climate forcing, causing disequilibria and reduced fitness, and abrupt responses are characterized by nonlinear, threshold-type responses at rates that are large relative to background variability and forcing. All three kinds of climate-driven ecological dynamics are well documented in contemporary studies, palaeoecology and invasion biology. This fast-slow-abrupt conceptual framework helps unify a bifurcated climate-change literature, which tends to separately consider the ecological risks posed by slow or abrupt ecological dynamics. Given the prospect of ongoing climate change for the next several decades to centuries of the Anthropocene and wide variations in ecological rates of change, the theory and practice of managing ecological systems should shift attention from target states to target rates. A rates-focused framework broadens the strategic menu for managers to include options to both slow and accelerate ecological rates of change, seeks to reduce mismatch among climate and ecological rates of change, and provides a unified conceptual framework for tackling the distinct risks associated with fast, slow and abrupt ecological rates of change.

Original languageEnglish
JournalNature Ecology & Evolution
Volume5
Pages (from-to)17-26
Number of pages10
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2021

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