What Causes Ecological Shifts?

Instruments gather weather station data from a restored prairie site near the riparian corridor of the Sangamon River in Illinois. Credit: Praveen Kumar

17 Oct 2017
News Source: Eos

A new information partitioning methodology allows researchers to identify the factors that drive behavior in an ecohydrologic system.

Image: Instruments gather weather station data from a restored prairie site near the riparian corridor of the Sangamon River in Illinois. Credit: Praveen Kumar [Click image to enlarge]

Our environment is constantly changing—today faster than ever, thanks in large part to human activities. Understanding the forces and feedbacks that drive the state of ecosystems is an important first step to either adapting to our changing planet or preventing runaway climate change.

The trouble is, the environment is a complex system. Many variables, processes, and feedbacks interact to produce the conditions of an ecosystem, and factors like rainfall—or its absence—can perturb that system’s balance. The complexity of these interactions makes environmental systems difficult to model and understand.

Now, in a new study, Goodwell and Kumar present an information partitioning methodology that allows researchers to identify the unique (individual), redundant (overlapping), and synergistic (jointly acting) factors that drive behavior in an ecohydrologic system. In such systems, precipitation and atmospheric and soil processes all influence each other on various timescales; water, for example, can cause a plant to open its stomata in mere seconds, or it can carve canyonsinto hard landscapes over centuries.


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