Hastings, Alan; Karen C. Abbott; Kim Cuddington; Tessa Francis; Ying-Cheng Lai; Andrew Morozov; Sergei Petrovskii; Mary Lou Zeeman

There is a growing recognition that ecological systems can spend extended periods of time far away from an asymptotic state, and that ecological understanding will therefore require a deeper appreciation for how long ecological transients arise. Recent work has defined classes of deterministic mechanisms that can lead to long transients. Given the ubiquity of stochasticity in ecological systems, a similar systematic treatment of transients that includes the influence of stochasticity is important. Stochasticity can of course promote the appearance of transient dynamics by preventing systems from settling permanently near their asymptotic state, but stochasticity also interacts with deterministic features to create qualitatively new dynamics. As such, stochasticity may shorten, extend, or fundamentally change a system’s transient dynamics. Here, we describe a general framework that is developing for understanding the range of possible outcomes when random processes impact the dynamics of ecological systems over realistic time scales. We emphasize that we can understand the ways in which stochasticity can either extend or reduce the lifetime of transients by studying the interactions between the stochastic and deterministic processes present, and we summarize both the current state of knowledge and avenues for future advances.