Temporal Lag in Ecological Responses to Landscape Change: Where Are We Now?

  • Paula Koeler Lira
  • Melina de Souza Leite
  • Jean Paul MetzgerEmail author
Interface of Landscape Ecology and Conservation Biology
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Topical Collection on Interface of Landscape Ecology and Conservation Biology


Purpose of the Review

The loss or gain of biodiversity and/or ecosystem functions and services can occur with a substantial delay following landscape change. We have first revisited the key concepts used to refer to those delayed ecological responses to landscape change and then reviewed the literature aiming to summarize (i) methodological approaches used to empirically evaluate the existence of delayed ecological responses, (ii) empirical evidences of delayed ecological responses, and (iii) current understanding of the main mechanisms that can explain those delayed responses.

Recent Findings

We identified that key concepts used to refer to delayed ecological responses are very confusing as many different terms are used to refer to a single delayed ecological response. So, we propose here a unified vocabulary to support future research. Our review showed that there is plenty of empirical evidence that delayed ecological responses to landscape change are common in nature. However, current knowledge is mostly restricted to biodiversity responses to adverse landscape changes. Few studies have investigated for ecosystem functions and/or services delayed responses or delayed ecological gains after landscape structure improvements such as increase in habitat amount. We verified that some progress occurred in recent years. We identified the use of three new methodological approaches to empirically evaluate the existence of delayed ecological responses, and we also verified an increase in our understanding about the mechanisms that explain delayed ecological responses. As expected, we observed high levels of support for delayed ecological responses in landscapes that have undergone recent changes and for habitat specialist species. Other hypotheses have been less frequently tested. Some of them have a low level of support (no clear relationship between strength of landscape change and delayed responses), while others have a good level of support but still need more evidences (relationships between species longevity and dispersal capability with delayed responses).


Our understanding about delayed ecological responses to landscape change is still at an early stage and seems to be increasing slowly while human-altered landscapes are increasing rapidly worldwide. There are still important knowledge gaps to be filled. Beyond providing better support for some explanatory hypotheses, we still need to explore (1) ecosystem functions and services delayed responses to landscape change, and (2) the delayed ecological gains after positive landscape changes.


Colonization credit Ecosystem function debt Ecosystem service debt Extinction debt Immigration credit Species credit 



JPM is supported by the Brazilian Science Council (CNPq) and by the São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

We have no conflicts of interest.

Human and Animal Rights

This article does not contain any studies with human or animal subjects performed by any of the authors.

Supplementary material

40823_2019_40_MOESM1_ESM.docx (116 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 116 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of BiologyPontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro (PUC-Rio)Rio de JaneiroBrazil
  2. 2.Department of EcologyUniversity of São Paulo, São PauloSão PauloBrazil

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