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Community dynamics

Community dynamics are the changes in community structure and composition over time, often following environmental disturbances such as volcanoes, earthquakes, storms, fires, and climate change. Communities with a relatively constant number of species are said to be at equilibrium. The equilibrium is dynamic with species identities and relationships changing over time, but maintaining relatively constant numbers. Following a disturbance, the community may or may not return to the equilibrium state.

Succession describes the sequential appearance and disappearance of species in a community over time after a severe disturbance. In primary succession    , newly exposed or newly formed rock is colonized by living organisms; in secondary succession    , a part of an ecosystem is disturbed and remnants of the previous community remain. In both cases, there is a sequential change in species until a more or less permanent community develops.

Primary succession and pioneer species

Primary succession occurs when new land is formed, for example, following the eruption of volcanoes, such as those on the Big Island of Hawaii. As lava flows into the ocean, new land is continually being formed. On the Big Island, approximately 32 acres of land is added to it its size each year. Weathering and other natural forces break down the rock enough for the establishment of hearty species such as lichens and some plants, known as pioneer species    ( [link] ). These species help to further break down the mineral-rich lava into soil where other, less hardy but more competitive species, such as grasses, shrubs, and trees, will grow and eventually replace the pioneer species. Over time the area will reach an equilibrium state, with a set of organisms quite different from the pioneer species.

Photo shows a succulent plant growing in bare earth.
During primary succession in lava on Maui, Hawaii, succulent plants are the pioneer species. (credit: Forest and Kim Starr)

Secondary succession

A classic example of secondary succession occurs in oak and hickory forests cleared by wildfire ( [link] ). Wildfires will burn most vegetation, and unless the animals can flee the area, they are killed. Their nutrients, however, are returned to the ground in the form of ash. Thus, although the community has been dramatically altered, there is a soil ecosystem present that provides a foundation for rapid recolonization.

Before the fire, the vegetation was dominated by tall trees with access to the major plant energy resource: sunlight. Their height gave them access to sunlight while also shading the ground and other low-lying species. After the fire, though, these trees are no longer dominant. Thus, the first plants to grow back are usually annual plants followed within a few years by quickly growing and spreading grasses and other pioneer species. Due, at least in part, to changes in the environment brought on by the growth of grasses and forbs, over many years, shrubs emerge along with small pine, oak, and hickory trees. These organisms are called intermediate species. Eventually, over 150 years, the forest will reach its equilibrium point and resemble the community before the fire. This equilibrium state is referred to as the climax community    , which will remain until the next disturbance. The climax community is typically characteristic of a given climate and geology. Although the community in equilibrium looks the same once it is attained, the equilibrium is a dynamic one with constant changes in abundance and sometimes species identities. The return of a natural ecosystem after agricultural activities is also a well-documented secondary succession process.

The three illustrations show secondary succession of an oak and hickory forest. The first illustration shows a plot of land covered with pioneer species, including grasses and perennials. The second illustration shows the same plot of land later covered with intermediate species, including shrubs, pines, oak and hickory. The third illustration shows the plot of land covered with a climax community of mature oak and hickory. This community remains stable until the next disturbance.
Secondary succession is seen in an oak and hickory forest after a forest fire. A sequence of the community present at three successive times at the same location is depicted.

Section summary

Communities include all the different species living in a given area. The variety of these species is referred to as biodiversity. Many organisms have developed defenses against predation and herbivory, including mechanical defenses, warning coloration, and mimicry. Two species cannot exist indefinitely in the same habitat competing directly for the same resources. Species may form symbiotic relationships such as commensalism, mutualism, or parasitism. Community structure is described by its foundation and keystone species. Communities respond to environmental disturbances by succession: the predictable appearance of different types of plant species, until a stable community structure is established.

Questions & Answers

what are the properties of lipids?
Isiah Reply
They are: Fatty acids, fats, oils, waxes, phospholipid, glycolipids, steroids and some vitamins
Rachel
explain why a fresh water fish excrete ammonia
Leonard Reply
plz answer my question
Leonard
sorry i meant it has a nucleous unlike plant cells lol
Lailah
Ammonia is the end product of protein catabolism and is stored in the body of the fish in high concentrations relative to basal excretion rates. Ammonia, if allowed to accumulate, is toxic and is converted to less toxic compounds or excreted
Rachel
What are eukaryotic cells?
Nwosueke Reply
cell with no nucleous so not a plant cell
Lailah
eukaryotic cells are membrane bound organelles that have a membrane bound nucleus
ojeen
where does the cell get energy for active transport processes?
A'Kaysion Reply
IDK maybe glucose
Lailah
what is synapsis
Adepoju Reply
how many turns are required to make a molecule of sucrose in Calvin cycle
Amina Reply
why Calvin cycle occurs in stroma
Amina
why do humans enhale oxygen and exhale carbondioxide?
Maryam Reply
why do humans enhale oxygen and exhale carbondioxide? For the purpose of breaking down the food
dil
what is allele
uzoka Reply
process of protein synthesis
SANTOSH Reply
what is cell
Zulf Reply
a cell is a smallest basic, structural and functional unit of life that is capable of self replication
Lucas
why does a fresh water fish excrete ammonia
Leonard
plz answer my question
Leonard
Ammonia is a toxic colorless gas and when its inside the fish biological system is converted to a less toxic compound then excreted in the form of urea. However too much ammonia will kill the fish " Ammonia Poisoning " which is a very common disease among fish.
This
what is cytoplasm
uzoka Reply
cytoplasm is fluid of cell.
Deepak
how many major types of Cloning
Saeed Reply
two
amir
two
Zulf
comparative anatomy of gymnosperms?
Meenakshi Reply
anatomy of gymnosperms
Meenakshi
how genes are regulated
Ainjue Reply
what is storage of glycogen
Student Reply
glycogen is a protein content
Najeem

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Source:  OpenStax, Concepts of biology. OpenStax CNX. Feb 29, 2016 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11487/1.9
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