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Addressing context dependence in ecology

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)158-170
Number of pages13
JournalTrends in Ecology & Evolution
Volume37
Issue number2
Early online date29 Oct 2021
DOIs
Accepted/In press21 Sep 2021
E-pub ahead of print29 Oct 2021
PublishedFeb 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information: We thank Becks Spake, Est?baliz Palma, Ren-Jay Wang, and Sarah Wyse for images in Box 1 and Kevin Mueller and an anonymous reviewer for comments that helped improve the paper. The idea for this paper stemmed from a keynote delivered by J.A.C. at the 2019 Ecology and Management of Alien Plant Invasions conference; J.A.C. thanks people for feedback on that presentation. This project has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement No. [101002987] to J.A.C.). J.R.U.W. thanks the South African Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) for funding, noting that the views expressed here need not represent those of DFFE or its employees. P.P. was supported by EXPRO grant No. 19-28807X (Czech Science Foundation) and long-term research development project RVO 67985939 (Czech Academy of Sciences). No interests are declared. Funding Information: We thank Becks Spake, Estíbaliz Palma, Ren-Jay Wang, and Sarah Wyse for images in Box 1 and Kevin Mueller and an anonymous reviewer for comments that helped improve the paper. The idea for this paper stemmed from a keynote delivered by J.A.C. at the 2019 Ecology and Management of Alien Plant Invasions conference; J.A.C. thanks people for feedback on that presentation. This project has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement No. [ 101002987 ] to J.A.C.). J.R.U.W. thanks the South African Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) for funding, noting that the views expressed here need not represent those of DFFE or its employees. P.P. was supported by EXPRO grant No. 19-28807X ( Czech Science Foundation ) and long-term research development project RVO 67985939 ( Czech Academy of Sciences ). Publisher Copyright: © 2021 The Authors

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Abstract

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.

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