Time is an affliction: why ecology cannot be as predictive as physics and why it needs time series

Alexandra.Kraberg [ at ] awi.de


Ecological systems depend on both constraints and historical contingencies, both of which shape their present observable system state. In contrast to ahistorical systems, which are governed solely by constraints (i.e. laws), historical systems and their dynamics can be understood only if properly described, in the course of time. Describing these dynamics and understanding long-term variability can be seen as the mission of long time series measuring not only simple abiotic features but also complex biological variables, such as species diversity and abundances, allowing deep insights in the functioning of food webs and ecosystems in general. Long time-series are irreplaceable for understanding change, and cruicially inherent system variability and thus envisaging future scenarios. This nonewithstanding, current policies in funding and evaluating scientific research discourage the maintenance of long termseries, despite a clear need for long-term strategies to cope with climate change. Timeseries are cruicial for a pursuit of the much invoked Ecosystem Approach and to the passage from simple monitoring programmes large-scale and long-term Earth observatories – thus promoting a better understanding of the causes and effects of change in ecosystems. The few ongoing long timeseries in European waters must be integrated and networked so as to facilitate the formation of nodes of a series of observatories which, together, should allow the long-term management of the features and characteristics of European waters. Human capacity building in this region of expertise and a stronger societal involvement are also urgently needed, since the expertise in recognizing and describing species and therefore recording them reliably in the context of timeseries is rapidly vanishing from the European Scientific community.

Item Type
Primary Division
Primary Topic
Research Networks
Peer revision
ISI/Scopus peer-reviewed
Publication Status
Eprint ID
DOI 10.1016/j.seares.2014.07.008

Cite as
Boero, F. , Kraberg, A. C. , Krause, G. and Wiltshire, K. H. (2015): Time is an affliction: why ecology cannot be as predictive as physics and why it needs time series , Journal of Sea Research, 101 , pp. 12-18 . doi: 10.1016/j.seares.2014.07.008



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