More bang for the land manager's buck: disturbance autocorrelation can be used to achieve management objectives at no additional cost


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  1. Ecologists have long studied the effects of disturbance on species diversity. More recently, researchers have become interested in understanding how the various aspects of disturbance interact to influence community diversity. While the effects of temporal autocorrelation have also received some attention, the potential for manipulating disturbance autocorrelation to achieve management goals has not been theoretically explored.
  2. We consider the interactions between temporal autocorrelation of disturbance occurrence and disturbance intensity at varying disturbance frequencies. Using an annual plant model, we show that when intensity and frequency are kept constant, changing the temporal autocorrelation of disturbance occurrence can also affect competitive outcomes. Additionally, we show that when species coexist, the degree of autocorrelation can affect which species reaches higher densities.
  3. We describe several examples (including prescribed burning, grazing and mowing) that outline how manipulation of temporal autocorrelation may be used to achieve conservation and eradication goals at no additional cost.
  4. Synthesis and applications. Our results provide important insights into, and have potential application to, land management and conservation. While changing the intensity and frequency of human-induced disturbances can be costly, adjusting the temporal autocorrelation of disturbance occurrence may be considered a ‘no-cost manipulation’. In instances where a land manager lacks the funds or resources to manipulate other aspects of disturbance, such as intensity and frequency, changing the temporal autocorrelation may provide an effective, economical alternative.