Ecologists have a long-standing interest in studying post-eruption environments. A review of more than 800 scientific publications concerning terrestrial and freshwater ecosystem responses to volcanic eruptions since 1883 reveals some common findings that have made important contributions to disturbance ecology. The pace of this work has increased in recent decades as the number of interested scientists has grown, accessibility has increased, and the burgeoning work at Krakatoa (erupted in 1883), Surtsey (erupted 1963), and Mount St. Helens (erupted 1980) has gained wide attention. Despite these developments, further advance of the field would benefit greatly by adopting some common approaches and study themes across an array of volcanic disturbance types, geographies and biomes, taxonomic groups, and ecological processes.
Major findings represented in the literature on ecosystem response to volcanic disturbance events include: 1. the common importance of biological legacies (surviving plants, animals, fungi, organic matter, and biological structures) that persist through most eruptions and strongly influence the pattern and pace of post-disturbance ecosystem response; 2. several disturbance processes (e.g., tephra fall, pyroclastic density current, lava flow) typically involved in explosive eruptions vary in their intensity, creating heterogeneous landscapes for study; 3. volcanic processes may create new environments (e.g., volcanoes emerging from the sea, new lakes), offering opportunities for the study of primary succession; 4. volcanic deposits are nutrient (C and N) impoverished and require external source inputs that ameliorate conditions before most plants and animals can colonize; 5. many volcanoes have eruption return intervals that operate at ecologically relevant timescales and may create conditions of ecological disharmony as well as influence the spatial distribution of species; 6. the complexity of responses are a function of the interaction among initial disturbance type and intensity, interaction of properties of organisms and species with properties of the geophysical processes, all set in the context of climate as a constraint on pace of biological response. We recommend that future studies frame the work in terms of research themes common in earlier studies and carefully establish new ecological studies in the context of high-quality interpretation of the geophysical setting of study sites. Use of common protocols for sampling across sites would facilitate future synthesis. These steps would enhance the ability of the science community to make predictions about consequences of eruptions for public safety and recovery of natural resources systems.