Ecology Letters (2011) 14: 1–8
Matrix projection models are among the most widely used tools in plant ecology. However, the way in which plant ecologists use and interpret these models differs from the way in which they are presented in the broader academic literature. In contrast to calls from earlier reviews, most studies of plant populations are based on < 5 matrices and present simple metrics such as deterministic population growth rates. However, plant ecologists also cautioned against literal interpretation of model predictions. Although academic studies have emphasized testing quantitative model predictions, such forecasts are not the way in which plant ecologists find matrix models to be most useful. Improving forecasting ability would necessitate increased model complexity and longer studies. Therefore, in addition to longer term studies with better links to environmental drivers, priorities for research include critically evaluating relative/comparative uses of matrix models and asking how we can use many short-term studies to understand long-term population dynamics.