The long and the short of it: Mechanisms of synchronous and compensatory dynamics across temporal scales

Lauren G. Shoemaker, Lauren M. Hallett, Lei Zhao, Daniel C. Reuman, Shaopeng Wang, Kathryn L. Cottingham, Richard J. Hobbs, Max C.N. Castorani, Amy L. Downing, Joan C. Dudney, Samuel B. Fey, Laureano A. Gherardi, Nina Lany, Cristina Portales-Reyes, Andrew L. Rypel, Lawrence W. Sheppard, Jonathan A. Walter, Katharine N. Suding

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)


Synchronous dynamics (fluctuations that occur in unison) are universal phenomena with widespread implications for ecological stability. Synchronous dynamics can amplify the destabilizing effect of environmental variability on ecosystem functions such as productivity, whereas the inverse, compensatory dynamics, can stabilize function. Here we combine simulation and empirical analyses to elucidate mechanisms that underlie patterns of synchronous versus compensatory dynamics. In both simulated and empirical communities, we show that synchronous and compensatory dynamics are not mutually exclusive but instead can vary by timescale. Our simulations identify multiple mechanisms that can generate timescale-specific patterns, including different environmental drivers, diverse life histories, dispersal, and non-stationary dynamics. We find that traditional metrics for quantifying synchronous dynamics are often biased toward long-term drivers and may miss the importance of short-term drivers. Our findings indicate key mechanisms to consider when assessing synchronous versus compensatory dynamics and our approach provides a pathway for disentangling these dynamics in natural systems.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere3650
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2022


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