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Toward a more temporally explicit framework for community ecology

Abstract

Although ecologists have long understood the fundamentally dynamic nature of communities, ecology has until recently seemed to emphasize other aspects of ecological complexity, such as diversity and spatial structure, ahead of temporal variation. Climate change has made studies into the temporal dimensions of community ecology more immediate and urgent, and has exposed the limits of our general understanding about how species interactions change over time. Here, I suggest four specific ways to continue building toward a more temporally explicit understanding of community ecology: (a) by increasing the representation of temporal change in interaction networks, (b) by developing both specific and general insights into event-driven dynamics, (c) by developing and testing sequential hypotheses to describe proposed explanations that unfold over time and (d) by characterizing seasonal windows of opportunity. A great deal about the temporal dynamics of communities remains uncertain, but temporally explicit studies have the potential to improve our fundamental understanding of how communities function.

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