Quantifying temporal change in biodiversity: challenges and opportunities

Maria Dornelas, Anne Magurran, Stephen Terrence Buckland, Anne Chao, Robin L Chazdon, Robert K Colwell, Tom Curtis, Kevin J Gaston, Nicolas J Gotelli, Matthew A Kosnik, Brian McGill, Jenny L McCune, Hélène Morlon, Peter J Mumby, Lise Øvreås, Angelika Studeny, Mark Vellend

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Growing concern about biodiversity loss underscores the need to quantify and understand temporal change. Here, we review the opportunities presented by biodiversity time series, and address three related issues: (i) recognizing the characteristics of temporal data; (ii) selecting appropriate statistical procedures for analysing temporal data; and (iii) inferring and forecasting biodiversity change. With regard to the first issue, we draw attention to defining characteristics of biodiversity time series—lack of physical boundaries, uni-dimensionality, autocorrelation and directionality—that inform the choice of analytic methods. Second, we explore methods of quantifying change in biodiversity at different timescales, noting that autocorrelation can be viewed as a feature that sheds light on the underlying structure of temporal change. Finally, we address the transition from inferring to forecasting biodiversity change, highlighting potential pitfalls associated with phase-shifts and novel conditions.
Original languageEnglish
Article number20121931
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1750
Early online date24 Oct 2012
Publication statusPublished - 7 Jan 2013


  • Biological diversity
  • Time
  • Legacy data
  • Traits
  • Global change
  • Conservation


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