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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2021

Refocusing multiple stressor research around the targets and scales of ecological impacts

Simmons, Benno, I; Blyth, Penelope S. A.; Blanchard, Julia L.; Clegg, Tom; Delmas, Eva; Garnier, Aurelie; Griffiths, Christopher A.; Jacob, Ute; Pennekamp, Frank; Petchey, Owen L.; Poisot, Timothee; Webb, Thomas J.; Beckerman, Andrew P.


Ecological communities face a variety of environmental and anthropogenic stressors acting simultaneously. Stressor impacts can combine additively or can interact, causing synergistic or antagonistic effects. Our knowledge of when and how interactions arise is limited, as most models and experiments only consider the effect of a small number of non-interacting stressors at one or few scales of ecological organization. This is concerning because it could lead to significant underestimations or overestimations of threats to biodiversity. Furthermore, stressors have been largely classified by their source rather than by the mechanisms and ecological scales at which they act (the target). Here, we argue, first, that a more nuanced classification of stressors by target and ecological scale can generate valuable new insights and hypotheses about stressor interactions. Second, that the predictability of multiple stressor effects, and consistent patterns in their impacts, can be evaluated by examining the distribution of stressor effects across targets and ecological scales. Third, that a variety of existing mechanistic and statistical modelling tools can play an important role in our framework and advance multiple stressor research.This Perspective argues that classifying stressors by the ecological scales at which they have their impacts, rather than by their source, will allow better understanding of the predictability and consistency of multiple-stressor effects.

Published in

Nature ecology & evolution
2021, volume: 5, number: 11, pages: 1478-1489

Authors' information

Simmons, Benno
University of Exeter
Blyth, Penelope S. A.
University of Sheffield
Blanchard, Julia L.
University of Tasmania
Clegg, Tom
Imperial College London
Delmas, Eva
McGill University
Garnier, Aurélie
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Aquatic Resources
Griffiths, Christopher A.
University of Sheffield
Jacob, Ute
Helmholtz Association
Pennekamp, Frank
University of Zurich
Petchey, Owen L.
University of Zurich
Poisot, Timothee
University of Montreal
Webb, Thomas J.
University of Sheffield
Beckerman, Andrew P.
University of Sheffield

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