Volcanism is a powerful agent of environmental change altering ecosystems around the world, often in profound ways. A key feature of volcanism is the transfer of inorganic materials from the Earth’s crust to the surface, creating new substrates, and in some cases new landforms, for biota to colonize. Eruptions involve several geophysical processes, or disturbance types, which vary in their intensities and spatial extent, creating heterogeneous post-eruption landscapes. These landscapes offer exemplary arenas for ecologists to study topics ranging from biotic assembly and succession to evolutionary processes. Ecologists have recognized the value of volcanic landscapes as topics of study since the famous 1883 eruption of Krakatoa, which in many respects stimulated this field of inquiry when biological inventories commencing there in 1884. Although ecologists have worked on volcanic eruption sites for >130 years, there has never been a synthesis of their activities. Here, we describe key features of this work by providing a global view on the geographic distribution, affected biomes, disturbance types, and taxa studied by ecologists through an intensive literature review of 812 publications based on post-1883 eruptions.
The Smithsonian Institution’s Global Volcanism Program lists ca. 1550 terrestrial volcanoes currently considered active, and roughly 70 erupt each year. Of these, 402 have erupted since 1883, and our literature review reveals that 90 (22.3%) have published ecological studies. Volcanoes have erupted since 1883 in all major biomes of the world, and at least some volcanoes in each biome has been studied. The vast majority of the 90 volcanoes studied have been in forest biomes (76%), and volcanoes in tropical forest biomes are the most studied (38%). Ecologists have primarily focused their studies on terrestrial systems and less on freshwater or marine systems. Vegetation has been the primary focal area (84% of volcanoes) as compared to animals (55%). Invertebrates have been studied at roughly twice the number of volcanoes than vertebrates and insects have been studied more than arachnids. All five classes of vertebrates have been studied, but birds and mammals have received most attention, whereas fish, amphibians and reptiles have limited study. Tephra fall, lava flows and pyroclastic density currents are the most commonly studied disturbance types, whereas lahars, chemical toxicity and debris avalanches have been studied at far fewer volcanoes. This review is the first step in identifying information gaps and developing a strategy for future work in volcano ecology.