Populations as fluid on a landscape under global environmental change

Peter Chesson, Patricia J. Yang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Long-term climate change has been an ever-present feature of the Earth, but in ecology, it has, until recently, been largely ignored outside of paleoecological and dendroecological studies. It is now difficult to ignore due to strong anthropogenic drivers of change. However, standard ecological models and theory have always assumed no long-term trends in the environment, limiting the ability to conceptualize a natural world inescapably influenced by long-term change. Recent theory of asymptotic environmentally determined trajectories (aedts) provides a way forward, but has not previously considered the critical interactions between space and time that are of much importance in understanding ecosystem responses to climate change. Here, this theory is extended to spatial models including long-term environmental change, and is illustrated with simple model examples. Regarding a population as fluid on a landscape allows consideration of how the environment that the population actually experiences changes with time. Here, it is shown that although the environment at any one locality may show strong temporal trends, the environment experienced by a population as it moves around a landscape need not have any strong trends. However, the experienced environment will generally differ by being less favorable on average than without long-term global change. These results suggest theoretical and empirical research programs on the characteristics of landscapes, dispersal, and temporal change affecting the properties of experienced environments. They imply moving away from local population and community thinking to conceptualization and study of populations and communities on multiple spatial and temporal scales. Many standard ecological methods and concepts may still apply to populations tracked as they move on a landscape, while at the same time, understanding is enriched by accounting for how dispersal processes and landscape complexity, interacting with temporal change, affect those moving populations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number363
JournalFrontiers in Ecology and Evolution
Issue numberSEP
StatePublished - 2019


  • Aedt
  • Climate change
  • Experienced environment
  • Landscape
  • Non-stationary environment
  • Scale transition theory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology


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