Abbott, Karen C.; Kim Cuddington and Alan Hastings
The history of theoretical ecology is replete with insights earned by studying the long-term, equilibrium dynamics that result from processes playing out within populations and communities. However, real systems take time to reach equilibrium, and some may never reach it due to the influence of stochasticity and disturbance. It is therefore increasingly apparent that by focusing on equilibria, we miss many important aspects of the dynamics we can expect to see on ecologically relevant time scales. Overviews of these issues have been presented in a series of papers by the three co-editors of this special feature along with our collaborators (Hastings et al. 2018, 2021; Morozov et al. 2020; Francis et al. 2021). The focus of this previous work has been on big picture synthesis, at the expense of detailed studies of particular systems or issues. The papers in this special feature fill that gap admirably and provide new and important insights on the influence of stochasticity and implications for both basic understanding and management.