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Biological responses to environmental forcing: the linear tracking window hypothesis.

  • Author(s): Hsieh, Chih-Hao;
  • Ohman, Mark D
  • et al.

Determining the relative contributions of intrinsic and extrinsic processes to the regulation of biological populations has been a recurrent ecological issue. Recent discussions concerning ecosystem "regime shifts" again raise the question of whether population fluctuations are mainly controlled by external forcing. Results of nonlinear time series analyses indicate that pelagic populations typically do not passively track stochastic environmental variables. Rather, population dynamics are better described as nonlinear amplification of physical forcing by biological interactions. However, we illustrate that in some cases populations do show linear tracking of the physical environment. To explain why population dynamics can sometimes be linear, we propose the linear tracking window hypothesis: populations are most likely to track the stochastic environmental forcing when their generation time matches the characteristic time scale of the environmental signal. While our observations follow this hypothesis well, our results indicate that the linear tracking window is a necessary but not a sufficient condition.

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