, Volume 711, Issue 1, pp 1–7 | Cite as

Disturbance and stress: different meanings in ecological dynamics?

Opinion Paper


There is an increasing frequency of papers addressing disturbance and stress in ecology without clear delimitation of their meaning. Some authors use the terms disturbance and stress exclusively as impacts, while others use them for the entire process, including both causes and effects. In some studies, the disturbance is considered as a result of a temporary impact, which is positive for the ecosystem, while stress is a negative, debilitating impact. By developing and testing simple theoretical models, the authors propose to differentiate disturbance and stress by frequency. If the frequency of the event enables the variable to reach a dynamic equilibrium which might be exhibited without this event, then the event (plus its responses) is a disturbance for the system. If frequency prevents the variable’s return to similar pre-event dynamics and drives or shifts it to a new trajectory, then we are facing stress. The authors propose that changes triggered by the given stimuli can be evaluated on an absolute scale, therefore, direction of change of the variable must not be used to choose one term or the other, i.e. to choose between stress and disturbance.


Terminology Frequency scale Disturbance Perturbation Stress 



This project was supported by the Hungarian National Science Foundation (OTKA Nr. K 75552 and OTKA104279), Bolyai Fellowship of the Hungarian Academy of Science and the EU Societal Renewal Operative Program (TÁMOP-4.2.2.A-11/1/KONV-2012-0064).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gábor Borics
    • 1
  • Gábor Várbíró
    • 1
  • Judit Padisák
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Tisza River Research, Centre for Ecological ResearchHungarian Academy of SciencesDebrecenHungary
  2. 2.Department of LimnologyUniversity of PannoniaVeszprémHungary

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