Ecosystem coupling: A unifying framework to understand the functioning and recovery of ecosystems

Raúl Ochoa-Hueso* (Corresponding author), Manuel Delgado-Baquerizo, Anita C. Risch, Maarten Schrama, Elly Morriën, S. Henrik Barmentlo, Stefan Geisen, S. Emilia Hannula, M. Carol Resch, Basten L. Snoek, Wim H. van der Putten

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journal/periodicalArticleScientificpeer-review

32 Citations (Scopus)
7 Downloads (Pure)


Global change frequently disrupts the connections among species, as well as among species and their environment, before the most obvious impacts can be detected. Therefore, we need to develop a unified conceptual framework that allows us to predict early ecological impacts under changing environments. The concept of coupling, defined as the multiple ways in which the biotic and abiotic components of ecosystems are orderly connected across space and/or time, may provide such a framework. Here, we operationally define the coupling of ecosystems based on a combination of correlational matrices and a null modeling approach. Compared with null models, ecosystems can be (1) coupled; (2) decoupled; and (3) anticoupled. Given that more tightly coupled ecosystems displaying higher levels of internal order may be characterized by a more efficient capture, transfer, and storage of energy and matter (i.e., of functioning), understanding the links between coupling and functioning may help us to accelerate the transition to planetary-scale sustainability. This may be achieved by promoting self-organized order.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)951-966
Number of pages16
JournalOne Earth
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 23 Jul 2021


  • coupling
  • ecological interactions
  • ecosystem functioning
  • fluxes of matter and energy
  • human impacts
  • self-organized order
  • international
  • Plan_S-Compliant_NO


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