A key challenge for ecology is the development of Theory to guide our responses to ongoing environmental change. To more effectively inform conservation and resource-use policy we need to understand the processes by which species – and the interactions among them – affect the dynamics of their communities and the functioning of their ecosystems. While we have made tremendous advances in our understanding, there still exist large gaps between mathematical theory and our empirical knowledge of nature’s complex ecological systems. How and when do species' direct and indirect interactions affect the structure, dynamics, and functioning of their communities? How well can we predict the response of ecological systems to acute and chronic perturbations, including when these amount to only subtle changes in the environment?
To date, our contributions to answering questions like these largely fall into two categories:
- Applying community matrix methods to learn how the reticulate nature of species interacton networks (i.e. the counteracting feedbacks of direct and indirect species effects) and uncertainties in the pairwise strength of species interactions (be it due to estimation error or natural variation) influence our ability to understand and predict how species respond to chronic press perturbations; and
- Using time-series data, field experiments, and simple models of population dynamics to characterize species- and community dynamics, test ecological theory on how species interactions affect population sizes, and better understand the processes that underlie these effects.
There is increasing awareness that human activities are altering the ways that natural systems operate and that local shifts in species …