Transients: the key to long-term ecological understanding?

Trends Ecol Evol. 2004 Jan;19(1):39-45. doi: 10.1016/j.tree.2003.09.007.


Ecological theory has been dominated by a focus on long-term or asymptotic behavior as a way to understand natural systems. Yet experiments are done on much shorter timescales, and the relevant timescales for ecological systems can also be relatively short. Thus, there is a mismatch between the timescales of most experiments and the timescales of many theoretical investigations. However, recent work has emphasized the importance of transient dynamics rather than long-term behavior in ecological systems, enabling the examination of forces that allow coexistence on ecological timescales. Through an examination of what leads to transients in ecological systems, a deeper appreciation of the forces leading to persistence or coexistence in ecological systems emerges, as well as a general understanding of how population levels can change through time.