Current and Further Directions

Further investigations of indirect effects are important both for enhancing our understanding and therefore improving management of specific ecosystems, and for general development of ecology. Due to the increasing pace of technological progress, collection of monitoring data using automated techniques, and in particular remote sensing, is becoming increasingly easy. Combined with rapidly increasing computing power and progressive development of mathematical methods, this may provide the necessary basis for a dramatic acceleration of investigations of indirect effects, in particular the ones manifesting on a global level, and in cases when the geographical separation is an issue. With progressive accumulation of long-term data sets, it is also likely that the effects occurring after a time lag will become more readily discernable. To maximize the benefits (i.e., for investigations of indirect effects) from the technological development, however, it should be supplemented by contemporary advances in the methodology of their investigations.

It has been argued that analysis of indirect relationships in ecosystems may be greatly enhanced by the application of a specialized methodological framework, called CTEA. CTEA is aimed at bringing together separate lines of current investigations, hence combining them in an integrative approach (see the section titled 'Further reading'). Further development and systematic application of CTEA is vital for improving the accuracy of ecological forecasting, and has, therefore, potential societal benefits related to issues of EIA and sustainable development. It is suggested that further developments should pay much attention to similarities and differences of the indirect effects revealed in various types of ecosystems, or at different stages of the ecosystem development, and that the characteristics (e.g., magnitude, sign, etc.) of indirect interactions should be increasingly used for describing differences in ecosystem state, structure, and overall functioning. For example, analysis of specific ecosystems may benefit from answering the following (to name but a few) questions:

• What types of indirect effects are important for the overall functioning of an ecosystem under investigation?

• How does the importance of indirect effects compare with the importance of direct effects?

• Is the pattern of indirect effects relatively constant, or subject to (system specific) seasonal and longer-term changes?

• How does the pattern of indirect interactions change due to pollution, disturbance, and various management practices?

• Do indirect interactions predominant in an ecosystem help to stabilize this ecosystem?

• What is the relative contribution of indirect interactions to resistance, resilience, and facilitation of successional changes?

• How have the indirect effects changed during the evolution of a particular ecosystem, and what was their contribution toward the driving forces of this evolution?

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