Disturbances are ubiquitous in natural systems; it is thus critical to understand their effects. We are developing and applying an ecological niche-based theory of disturbance, encompassing six interacting aspects (frequency, intensity, duration, extent, pace and timing), that allows us to address a wide range of issues related to disturbance regimes and their effects on biological systems, with a particular focus on the maintenance of biological diversity, and species invasion. Central to the theory is the notion that species niche requirements and life history attributes provide the mechanistic link between the disturbance regime and species dynamics, including invasion and coexistence. Our work uses a broad range of analytical and simulation models to explore and understand the role of disturbance in a wide variety of biological systems. This conceptual framework also allows us to integrate across levels of biological organization; from the individual through to the population, the community, and beyond.
The need to address the impacts of environmental disturbance is increasingly urgent in the face of anthropogenic alterations to existing disturbance regimes. We need to be able to make reliable predictions – only if we can anticipate them can we avoid or ameliorate the impacts of such disturbances. Our research not only informs us about when disturbances are likely to pose a problem, but also lets us assess how we can manipulate disturbances to achieve desired management outcomes.