by Samuel R. Bray, Bo Wang
Forecasting ‘Black Swan’ events in ecosystems is an important but challenging task. Many ecosystems display aperiodic fluctuations in species abundance spanning orders of magnitude in scale, which have vast environmental and economic impact. Empirical evidence and theoretical analyses suggest that these dynamics are in a regime where system nonlinearities limit accurate forecasting of unprecedented events due to poor extrapolation of historical data to unsampled states. Leveraging increasingly available long-term high-frequency ecological tracking data, we analyze multiple natural and experimental ecosystems (marine plankton, intertidal mollusks, and deciduous forest), and recover hidden linearity embedded in universal ‘scaling laws’ of species dynamics. We then develop a method using these scaling laws to reduce data dependence in ecological forecasting and accurately predict extreme events beyond the span of historical observations in diverse ecosystems.