Addressing context dependence in ecology

Jane A. Catford*, John R.U. Wilson, Petr Pyšek, Philip E. Hulme, Richard P. Duncan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

103 Citations (Scopus)


Context dependence is widely invoked to explain disparate results in ecology. It arises when the magnitude or sign of a relationship varies due to the conditions under which it is observed. Such variation, especially when unexplained, can lead to spurious or seemingly contradictory conclusions, which can limit understanding and our ability to transfer findings across studies, space, and time. Using examples from biological invasions, we identify two types of context dependence resulting from four sources: mechanistic context dependence arises from interaction effects; and apparent context dependence can arise from the presence of confounding factors, problems of statistical inference, and methodological differences among studies. Addressing context dependence is a critical challenge in ecology, essential for increased understanding and prediction.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)158-170
Number of pages13
JournalTrends in Ecology & Evolution
Issue number2
Early online date29 Oct 2021
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2022


  • apparent and mechanistic context dependence
  • contingency and higher-order interactions
  • ecological interaction effects
  • experimental design and statistics
  • invasive alien species
  • multiple stressors and global environmental change factors


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