Resource pulses are infrequent, large-magnitude, and short-duration events of increased resource availability. They include a diverse set of extreme events in a wide range of ecosystems, but identifying general patterns among the diversity of pulsed resource phenomena in nature remains an important challenge. Here we present a meta-analysis of resource pulse–consumer interactions that addresses four key questions: (1) Which characteristics of pulsed resources best predict their effects on consumers? (2) Which characteristics of consumers best predict their responses to resource pulses? (3) How do the effects of resource pulses differ in different ecosystems? (4) What are the indirect effects of resource pulses in communities? To investigate these questions, we built a data set of diverse pulsed resource–consumer interactions from around the world, developed metrics to compare the effects of resource pulses across disparate systems, and conducted multilevel regression analyses to examine the manner in which variation in the characteristics of resource pulse–consumer interactions affects important aspects of consumer responses.
Resource pulse magnitude, resource trophic level, resource pulse duration, ecosystem type and subtype, consumer response mechanisms, and consumer body mass were found to be key explanatory factors predicting the magnitude, duration, and timing of consumer responses. Larger consumers showed more persistent responses to resource pulses, and reproductive responses were more persistent than aggregative responses. Aquatic systems showed shorter temporal lags between peaks of resource availability and consumer response compared to terrestrial systems, and temporal lags were also shorter for smaller consumers compared to larger consumers. The magnitude of consumer responses relative to their resource pulses was generally smaller for the direct consumers of primary resource pulses, compared to consumers at greater trophic distances from the initial resource pulse. In specific systems, this data set showed both attenuating and amplifying indirect effects. We consider the mechanistic processes behind these patterns and their implications for the ecology of resource pulses.