Research into the processes governing species richness has often assumed that the environment is fixed, whereas realistic environments are often characterised by random fluctuations over time. This temporal environmental stochasticity (TES) changes the demographic rates of species populations, with cascading effects on community dynamics and species richness. Theoretical and applied studies have used process-based mathematical models to determine how TES affects species richness, but under a variety of frameworks. Here, we critically review such studies to synthesise their findings and draw general conclusions. We first provide a broad mathematical framework encompassing the different ways in which TES has been modelled. We then review studies that have analysed models with TES under the assumption of negligible interspecific interactions, such that a community is conceptualised as the sum of independent species populations. These analyses have highlighted how TES can reduce species richness by increasing the frequency at which a species becomes rare and therefore prone to extinction. Next, we review studies that have relaxed the assumption of negligible interspecific interactions. To simplify the corresponding models and make them analytically tractable, such studies have used mean-field theory to derive fixed parameters representing the typical strength of interspecific interactions under TES. The resulting analyses have highlighted community-level effects that determine how TES affects species richness, for species that compete for a common limiting resource. With short temporal correlations of environmental conditions, a non-linear averaging effect of interspecific competition strength over time gives an increase in species richness. In contrast, with long temporal correlations of environmental conditions, strong selection favouring the fittest species between changes in environmental conditions results in a decrease in species richness. We compare such results with those from invasion analysis, which examines invasion growth rates (IGRs) instead of species richness directly. Qualitative differences sometimes arise because the IGR is the expected growth rate of a species when it is rare, which does not capture the variation around this mean or the probability of the species becoming rare. Our review elucidates key processes that have been found to mediate the negative and positive effects of TES on species richness, and by doing so highlights key areas for future research.
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- Temporal environmental stochasticity
- Temporal environmental variance