Disturbance and landscape dynamics in a changing world
Disturbance regimes are changing rapidly, and the consequences of such changes for ecosystems and linked social-ecological systems will be profound. This paper synthesizes current understanding of disturbance with an emphasis on fundamental contributions to contemporary landscape and ecosystem ecology, then identifies future research priorities. Studies of disturbance led to insights about heterogeneity, scale, and thresholds in space and time and catalyzed new paradigms in ecology. Because they create vegetation patterns, disturbances also establish spatial patterns of many ecosystem processes on the landscape. Drivers of global change will produce new spatial patterns, altered disturbance regimes, novel trajectories of change, and surprises. Future disturbances will continue to provide valuable opportunities for studying pattern–process interactions. Changing disturbance regimes will produce acute changes in ecosystems and ecosystem services over the short (years to decades) and long term (centuries and beyond). Future research should address questions related to (1) disturbances as catalysts of rapid ecological change, (2) interactions among disturbances, (3) relationships between disturbance and society, especially the intersection of land use and disturbance, and (4) feedbacks from disturbance to other global drivers. Ecologists should make a renewed and concerted effort to understand and anticipate the causes and consequences of changing disturbance regimes.