, Volume 10, Issue 5, pp 790-796

First online:

Cross–Scale Interactions and Changing Pattern–Process Relationships: Consequences for System Dynamics

  • Debra P. C. PetersAffiliated withUSDA ARS, Jornada Experimental Range Email author 
  • , Brandon T. BestelmeyerAffiliated withUSDA ARS, Jornada Experimental Range
  • , Monica G. TurnerAffiliated withDepartment of Zoology, University of Wisconsin

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Cross–scale interactions refer to processes at one spatial or temporal scale interacting with processes at another scale to result in nonlinear dynamics with thresholds. These interactions change the pattern–process relationships across scales such that fine-scale processes can influence a broad spatial extent or a long time period, or broad-scale drivers can interact with fine-scale processes to determine system dynamics. Cross–scale interactions are increasing recognized as having important influences on ecosystem processes, yet they pose formidable challenges for understanding and forecasting ecosystem dynamics. In this introduction to the special feature, “Cross–scale interactions and pattern–process relationships”, we provide a synthetic framework for understanding the causes and consequences of cross–scale interactions. Our framework focuses on the importance of transfer processes and spatial heterogeneity at intermediate scales in linking fine- and broad-scale patterns and processes. Transfer processes and spatial heterogeneity can either amplify or attenuate system response to broad-scale drivers. Providing a framework to explain cross–scale interactions is an important step in improving our understanding and ability to predict the impacts of propagating events and to ameliorate these impacts through proactive measures.


ecological surprises landscape ecology propagating events spatial heterogeneity transfer processes