Stochastic disturbance regimes alter patterns of ecosystem variability and recovery

Year of Publication
2020
Altered ecosystem variability is an important ecological response to disturbance yet understanding of how various attributes of disturbance regimes affect ecosystem variability is limited. To improve the framework for understanding the disturbance regime attributes that affect ecosystem variability, we examine how the introduction of stochasticity to disturbance parameters (frequency, severity and extent) alters simulated recovery when compared to deterministic outcomes from a spatially explicit simulation model. We also examine the agreement between results from empirical studies and deterministic and stochastic configurations of the model. We find that stochasticity in disturbance frequency and spatial extent leads to the greatest increase in the variance of simulated dynamics, although stochastic severity also contributes to departures from the deterministic case. The incorporation of stochasticity in disturbance attributes improves agreement between empirical and simulated responses, with 71% of empirical responses correctly classified by stochastic configurations of the model as compared to 47% using the purely deterministic model. By comparison, only 2% of empirical responses were correctly classified by the deterministic model and misclassified by stochastic configurations of the model. These results indicate that stochasticity in the attributes of a disturbance regime alters the patterns and classification of ecosystem variability, suggesting altered recovery dynamics. Incorporating stochastic disturbance processes into models may thus be critical for anticipating the ecological resilience of ecosystems.