Temporal variability in population and community dynamics

Ecology. 2022 Feb;103(2):e03577. doi: 10.1002/ecy.3577. Epub 2021 Nov 30.


Populations and communities fluctuate in their overall numbers through time, and the magnitude of fluctuations in individual species may scale to communities. However, the composite variability at the community scale is expected to be tempered by opposing fluctuations in individual populations, a phenomenon often called the portfolio effect. Understanding population variability, how it scales to community variability, and the spatial scaling in this variability are pressing needs given shifting environmental conditions and community composition. We explore evidence for portfolio effects using null community simulations and a large collection of empirical community time series from the BioTIME database. Additionally, we explore the relative roles of habitat type and geographic location on population and community temporal variability. We find strong portfolio effects in our theoretical community model, but weak effects in empirical data, suggesting a role for shared environmental responses, interspecific competition, or a litany of other factors. Furthermore, we observe a clear latitudinal signal - and differences among habitat types - in population and community variability. Together, this highlights the need to develop realistic models of community dynamics, and hints at spatial, and underlying environmental, gradients in variability in both population and community dynamics.

Keywords: ecological stability; population fluctuations; portfolio effect; temporal variability.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Ecosystem*
  • Models, Theoretical*
  • Population Dynamics