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Integrative disturbance theory for ecosystem ecologists: a primer with commentary
  • Christopher Gough,
  • Brian Buma
Christopher Gough
Virginia Commonwealth University

Corresponding Author:cmgough@vcu.edu

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Brian Buma
University of Colorado Denver
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Understanding what regulates ecosystem functional resistance – the ecosystem-wide capacity to withstand process change following disturbance – is essential in this era of global change. However, many guiding theories relevant to ecosystem ecologists were developed prior to rapid global change and before tools were available to test them. In light of new knowledge and conceptual advances across biological disciplines, we summarize four disturbance theoretical frameworks relevant to ecosystem ecologists: a) the directionality of disturbance response; b) functional thresholds; c) disturbance-succession interactions; and d) diversity-functional resistance relationships. Our brief viewpoint and synthesis considers how knowledge, theory, and terminology developed by several biological disciplines, when integrated, can enhance how ecosystem ecologists analyze and interpret ecosystem-scale disturbance responses. For example, frameworks considering thresholds and disturbance-succession interactions should incorporate regime change, typically the domain of population and community ecologists. Similarly, the interpretation of ecosystem functional responses to disturbance requires analytical approaches that recognize disturbance can promote, inhibit, or fundamentally change ecosystem functions such as primary production. Moreover, embracing an encompassing definition of biological diversity is critical to identifying the ecosystem properties that confer high functional resistance to disturbance. We suggest that, moving forward, cross-disciplinary, integrative knowledge is essential to advancing and refining knowledge in the area of ecosystem functional resistance to disturbance.