Ecological time lags and the journey towards conservation success



Watts K, Whytock RC, Park KJ, Fuentes-Montemayor E, Macgregor NA, Duffield S & McGowan PJK (2020) Ecological time lags and the journey towards conservation success. Nature Ecology & Evolution, 4, pp. 304-311.

Global conservation targets to reverse biodiversity declines and halt species extinctions are not being met despite decades of conservation action. However, a lack of measurable change in biodiversity indicators towards these targets is not necessarily a sign that conservation has failed; instead, temporal lags in species’ responses to conservation action could be masking our ability to observe progress towards conservation success. Here we present our perspective on the influence of ecological time lags on the assessment of conservation success and review the principles of time lags and their ecological drivers. We illustrate how a number of conceptual species may respond to change in a theoretical landscape and evaluate how these responses might influence our interpretation of conservation success. We then investigate a time lag in a real biodiversity indicator using empirical data and explore alternative approaches to understand the mechanisms that drive time lags. Our proposal for setting and evaluating conservation targets is to use milestones, or interim targets linked to specific ecological mechanisms at key points in time, to assess whether conservation actions are likely to be working. Accounting for ecological time lags in biodiversity targets and indicators will greatly improve the way that we evaluate conservation successes.

Biodiversity; Conservation biology; Ecological modelling; Ecology; Restoration ecology

Nature Ecology & Evolution: Volume 4

FundersNatural Environment Research Council
Publication date31/12/2020
Publication date online27/01/2020
Date accepted by journal19/12/2019
PublisherSpringer Science and Business Media LLC

People (2)


Dr Elisa Fuentes-Montemayor

Dr Elisa Fuentes-Montemayor

Senior Lecturer- Nature-based Solutions, Biological and Environmental Sciences

Professor Kirsty Park

Professor Kirsty Park

Professor, Biological and Environmental Sciences