Time lags: Insights from the U S long term ecological research network
Ecosystems across the United States are changing in complex ways that are difficult to predict. Coordinated long-term research and analysis are required to assess how these changes will affect a diverse array of ecosystem services. This paper is part of a series that is a product of a synthesis effort of the U.S. National Science Foundation’s Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) network. This effort revealed that each LTER site had at least one compelling scientific case study about “what their site would look like” in 50 or 100 yr. As the site results were prepared, themes emerged, and the case studies were grouped into separate papers along five themes: state change, connectivity, resilience, time lags, and cascading effects and compiled into this special issue. This paper addresses the time lags theme with five examples from diverse biomes including tundra (Arctic), coastal upwelling (California Current Ecosystem), montane forests (Coweeta), and Everglades freshwater and coastal wetlands (Florida Coastal Everglades) LTER sites. Its objective is to demonstrate the importance of different types of time lags, in different kinds of ecosystems, as drivers of ecosystem structure and function and how these can effectively be addressed with longterm studies. The concept that slow, interactive, compounded changes can have dramatic effects on ecosystem structure, function, services, and future scenarios is apparent in many systems, but they are difficult to quantify and predict. The case studies presented here illustrate the expanding scope of thinking about time lags within the LTER network and beyond. Specifically, they examine what variables are best indicators of lagged changes in arctic tundra, how progressive ocean warming can have profound effects on zooplankton and phytoplankton in waters off the California coast, how a series of species changes over many decades can affect Eastern deciduous forests, and how infrequent, extreme cold spells and storms can have enduring effects on fish populations and wetland vegetation along the Southeast coast and the Gulf of Mexico. The case studies highlight the need for a diverse set of LTER (and other research networks) sites to sort out the multiple components of time lag effects in ecosystems.