Nils Chr. Stenseth talks with
ScienceWatch.com and answers a few questions about
this month's Emerging Research Front in the field of
Article: Ecological effects of climate
NC;Mysterud, A;Ottersen, G;Hurrell, JW;Chan,
Authors: SCIENCE, 297 (5585): 1292-1296 AUG 23 2002
Addresses: Univ Oslo, Dept Biol, Div Zool, POB 1050
Blindern, N-0316 Oslo, Norway.
Univ Oslo, Dept Biol, Div Zool, N-0316 Oslo, Norway.
Flodevigen Marine Res Stn, Inst Marine Res, Dept Coastal
Zone Studies, N-4817 His, Norway.
Inst Marine Res, N-5024 Bergen, Norway.
Natl Ctr Atmospher Res, Boulder, CO 80307 USA.
Univ Iowa, Dept Stat & Actuarial Sci, Iowa City, IA
(addresses have been truncated)
Why do you think your paper is highly
I think that there are two reasons, in that it covers a broad spectrum of
biological systems as well as placing the climate-effect studies within a
classical ecology setting, with a strong focus on population processes (and
by so doing demonstrates how the effect of climate fluctuation might be
understood within the conceptual setting of population-based ecological
Classical population theory focuses upon how density-dependent and
density-independent processes determine the temporal dynamics of
populations. In this 2002 paper, we showed how climate fluctuations might
affect the strength of the density-dependent and density-independent
processes, and thereby how climate fluctuations might affect the temporal
dynamics of populations.
Does it describe a new discovery, methodology, or
synthesis of knowledge?
"To me climate
fluctuations are one way
through which the environment
The paper describes a synthesis across several ecological systems of how
large-scale climate variation may affect ecological patterns and processes.
We focused on the importance of large-scale climate variation, as measured
by climate indexes like the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO).
In two subsequent papers: (Stenseth NC, et al., "Studying climate
effects on ecology through the use of climate indices: the North Atlantic
Oscillation, El Niño Southern Oscillation and beyond."
Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, B 270: 2087-96, 2003.
[See link below] and Stenseth NC & Mysterud A "Weather packages:
finding the right scale and composition of climate in ecology," Journal
of Animal Ecology 74: 1195-98, 2005), we launched the concept of
"weather packages," claiming that such a combination of weather factors
across time and space—just like the NAO index and the like
does—is highly appropriate for ecological studies.
Would you summarize the significance of your paper
in layman's terms?
We demonstrate that climate fluctuations affect the dynamics of populations
through how the ways in which individuals within and between different
species interact. Furthermore, since we do this within a classical ecology
conceptual framework, we brought mainstream ecology and climate-effect
How did you become involved in this research and
were any particular problems encountered along the way?
I have always been interested in understanding how the environmental
conditions affect the dynamics of populations. To me climate fluctuations
are one way through which the environment is changing. Hence,
climate-effect studies provided a splendid way for me to better understand
how varying environmental conditions affect the dynamics of populations. It
was quite rewarding that such studies were also of great potential value to
a broad spectrum of people worldwide.
Where do you see your research leading in the
I continue to follow up the 2002 study with more process-oriented studies,
i.e., trying to understand the mechanisms behind how climate fluctuations
affect the strength of density-dependent and density-independent processes.
Do you foresee any social or political
implications for your research?
Studies focusing on how climate fluctuations affect the dynamics of
populations and other ecological systems are in great demand these days due
to concerns regarding climate change.
Nils Chr. Stenseth
Professor and Chair of Ecology and Evolution
Centre for Ecological and Evolutionary Synthesis (CEES)
Department of Biology