Temporal and spatial variability as neglected ecosystem properties: lessons learned from 12 North American ecosystems
Evaluating and monitoring the “health of large-scale systems will require new and innovative approaches. One such approach is to look for ecological signals in the structure of ecological variability observed in space and time. Such variability is sometimes considered something to minimize by clever sampling design, but may in itself contain interesting ecological information (Kratz et al. 1991). In fact, much of ecology can be considered an attempt to understand the patterns of spatial and temporal variability that occur in nature and the processes that lead to these patterns. Despite widespread interest in patterns of variation there have been relatively few attempts to describe comprehensively the temporal and spatial variation exhibited by ecological parameters. As a result, we have no general laws that allow us to predict die relative magnitude of temporal and spatial variability of different types of parameters across the full diversity of ecological systems. Even within single ecosystems, understanding of the interplay between temporal and spatial variability is lacking. For example, Lewis (1978) noted that despite a large literature, the relation between temporal and spatial variability in plankton distribution within a lake is not well understood. Matthews (1990) makes a similar point regarding fish communities in streams.