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Community – Definition, Types, Characterisitcs, Importance

What is Community in Ecology?

  • In ecology, a community refers to a group of organisms that coexist and interact with one another within a specific environment or habitat. It encompasses the biotic aspects of an ecosystem, which include living organisms, as well as the physical landscape and abiotic factors. The study of community ecology, also known as synecology, focuses on understanding the interactions between species within these groups over various temporal and spatial scales.
  • A community is composed of different species that engage in direct and indirect biotic interactions. These interactions can take various forms, such as predator-prey relationships, herbivory, parasitism, competition, and mutualism. Some interactions may be more subtle, such as an organism creating specific climatic conditions or serving as a substrate for another organism’s growth.
  • Community ecology investigates multiple aspects of species interactions within a community. It examines the distribution, population dynamics, structure, abundance, and demography of species within a community. This field of study pays particular attention to how populations interact with each other, considering both their genotypic and phenotypic traits.
  • Researchers in community ecology analyze the interplay and competition among organisms that coexist within a specific ecological niche. For instance, they may study the community of a lake, a prairie, or a wooded area to understand the intricate relationships between the species present.
  • Examples of communities can be found in various ecosystems. A forest community, for instance, includes a diverse array of organisms such as trees, squirrels, birds, deer, fungi, foxes, fish, insects, and other species that are present seasonally or locally. Similarly, a coral reef community comprises distinct species of coral, fish, and algae. The composition and dynamics of these biotic communities are heavily influenced by factors like dispersion and abundance.
  • Communities serve as an essential component of ecosystems, as they represent the interconnectedness and interdependence of different species. Within a community, organisms share a habitat, directly or indirectly influence each other’s lives, and have reached a level of coexistence and survival within the given environmental conditions.
  • Communities can vary in size, ranging from small patches of land or water bodies to extensive forests. Minor communities may be significantly influenced by neighboring communities, while major communities tend to be more independent and self-sufficient within their habitats. Additionally, communities can exhibit variations both from place to place and over time.
  • The approach to studying communities differs between botanists and zoologists. Zoologists are primarily concerned with understanding the functional relationships within a community, involving both plants and animals. On the other hand, botanists focus more on the structural aspects of community composition and the changes that occur over time and space. By combining these perspectives, researchers gain a comprehensive understanding of the intricate dynamics within ecological communities.

Types of Community

Types of community can be classified based on their size and self-regulatory capabilities. Here are the main types of communities:

  1. Major Community: A major community is a self-regulating ecological unit that can maintain itself independently. It is typically a larger and more isolated community, such as a pond, forest, grassland, or lake. Major communities consist of various interacting organisms that have effectively adapted to the environment and other species within the community. They include faunal communities (animal populations), floral communities (plant populations), and microbial communities. Major communities are capable of long-term stability and ecological balance.
  2. Minor Community: A minor community, also known as a merocenosis, is a small ecological unit that is not self-sustaining and relies on interactions with larger communities for survival. These communities are often localized and depend on neighboring major communities. For example, a group of organisms living within a piece of deadwood on the forest floor represents a minor community. These communities are more specialized and limited in their scope.

Communities can also be classified based on their openness or closedness:

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  1. Open Community: An open community is characterized by the distribution and dispersion of organisms, particularly plants, allowing for new species to invade and establish themselves. Open communities often occur along environmental gradients, such as varying soil moisture content or altitudinal slopes on a mountain. Organisms with different environmental tolerances are found at different points along the gradient, contributing to the openness of the community. This openness allows for a diverse range of species to coexist.
  2. Closed Community: In a closed community, organisms are clustered together, and the community is relatively isolated from external influences. Closed communities often form when there are sudden changes in the vegetative structure or physical environment, creating barriers for further colonization or invasion. For example, a section of a beach that separates the water from the land can form a closed community. In closed communities, the existing organisms have established themselves, and the area has limited capacity to support additional species.

Understanding the types of communities helps ecologists study the dynamics, interactions, and adaptations within different ecological units. These classifications provide insights into the self-regulation, dependence, and resilience of communities in their respective environments.

Structure of the community

Physical structure and biological structure make up the foundation of the community. The growth forms and living forms in a society define its physical makeup.

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1. Physical Structure: Growth forms and Life forms

The physical structure of vegetation plays a crucial role in distinguishing between different terrestrial communities. One way to classify the vegetation within a community is by examining the growth forms exhibited by the plants. These growth forms encompass characteristics such as plant height, woody or herbaceous nature, and deciduous or evergreen behavior.

The growth forms within a plant community can include short or tall plants, as well as woody or herbaceous plants. Trees, shrubs, and herbs are further subcategorized based on their growth forms. For example, evergreen sclerophylls, needle-leafed evergreens, thorn trees, broad-leafed evergreen or deciduous trees, dwarf shrubs, shrubs, grasses, ferns, mosses, lichens, and forbs are all examples of different growth forms present in plant communities.

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In addition to growth forms, plants can also be classified based on their life forms. Danish botanist Christen Raunkiaer proposed a classification system for life forms in 1903. Raunkiaer’s classification is based on the perennating tissue above ground or simply the height of the plant. According to his system, all plant species within a given area are grouped into six principal classes of life forms:

  1. Epiphytes: These are plants that grow on the surface of other plants, deriving nutrients and support without being parasitic.
  2. Phanerophytes: These are tall plants with perennating buds positioned above the soil surface, such as trees and large shrubs.
  3. Chamaephytes: These are low-growing woody plants with perennating buds situated close to the ground, often found in alpine or subalpine environments.
  4. Hemicryptophytes: These are herbaceous plants with perennating buds located at or near ground level, which allows them to survive adverse conditions such as freezing temperatures.
  5. Cryptophytes: These are plants with underground perennating buds, including bulbs, corms, and tubers.
  6. Therophytes: These are annual plants that complete their life cycle within a single growing season, relying on seed production for survival.

The dominant life forms within a community can provide insights into the prevailing climate conditions. For instance, a community consisting primarily of phanerophytes indicates a warm climate, while communities dominated by hemicryptophytes and chamaephytes are typically associated with cold climates.

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By examining the growth forms and life forms of vegetation within a community, ecologists can gain a deeper understanding of the ecological characteristics and adaptations of the plants present. These classifications help in assessing the impact of environmental factors, studying plant responses to climate change, and managing ecosystems effectively.

a. Stratification

Stratification is a phenomenon in ecological communities where the organisms are arranged into different layers or strata. This stratification is often observed in natural forest communities, where the height of plants determines the arrangement of the community into distinct layers or strata. These layers can include an herbaceous layer consisting of herbaceous plants, followed by shrubs, smaller trees, and tall trees.

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The stratification within a community is influenced by variations in external environmental factors such as water levels, temperature, and light. Different layers of the forest community receive varying degrees of light intensity, resulting in vertical stratification of the community structure. In a typical forest community, three or more vertical layers or strata of plants can be observed, including a herb layer, shrub layer, small tree layer, and canopy tree layer. Canopy trees and taller trees produce dense foliage, blocking light from reaching smaller plants on the forest floor.

The physical environment within the community creates horizontal layering or patterns among species. Factors such as nutrient availability and water distribution can significantly impact the distribution of plant and animal species across a region. These variations in the environment contribute to the formation of different layers within the community.

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The community structure is determined by the different growth forms present, such as herbs, shrubs, and trees. Each growth form may also exhibit variations, such as trees with long leaves or broad leaves. These variations in growth form contribute to the classification of communities into horizontal zonation and vertical stratification. Populations of organisms come together to form communities, and these populations are dispersed into distinct vertical or horizontal strata.

Stratification in ecological communities is essential for the organization and functioning of ecosystems. It allows for the efficient use of resources and creates diverse habitats for a wide range of species. Understanding the stratification patterns within communities helps ecologists comprehend the complex interactions and dependencies among different organisms within an ecosystem.

i. Horizontal Zonation

  • Horizontal zonation refers to the spatial arrangement of species within a community, resulting in distinct patterns of ecological sub-communities. This type of zonation occurs when there is a noticeable variation in the distribution of species across a horizontal gradient. Horizontal zonation can be observed in various ecosystems, such as lakes, mountains, and regions with altitudinal or latitudinal variations in vegetation.
  • In lakes or deep ponds, three major zones are commonly recognized: the littoral zone, limnetic zone (also known as the photic or open-water zone), and profundal zone (also known as the aphotic or deep-water zone). Each of these zones exhibits different environmental conditions, which in turn support different communities of organisms. The littoral zone is the shallow area near the shoreline, where sunlight penetrates and aquatic plants are abundant. The limnetic zone is the open water area, receiving ample sunlight and supporting phytoplankton and various fish species. The profundal zone is the deep-water region where light does not reach, and the community consists of specialized organisms adapted to low light conditions.
  • Another example of horizontal zonation can be observed in mountain ecosystems. As elevation increases, there are distinct changes in environmental conditions, including temperature, precipitation, and soil characteristics. These variations lead to different vegetation communities at different altitudinal levels. Each altitudinal zone represents a unique sub-community with specific plant and animal species adapted to the conditions of that zone.
  • Similarly, latitudinal variations in vegetation occur in relation to the climate of a particular region. As one moves from the equator towards the poles, there are noticeable changes in temperature, day length, and seasonal patterns. These changes result in different vegetation types and communities along the latitudinal gradient.
  • Horizontal zonation provides a framework for understanding the organization and dynamics of communities across diverse landscapes. It highlights the ecological relationships between species and their adaptations to specific environmental conditions. By studying horizontal zonation, ecologists can gain insights into the factors shaping community structure, species distributions, and ecosystem functioning within a given area.
A deep lake depicting a Horizontal Zonation
A deep lake depicting a Horizontal Zonation
: A mountain depicting a Horizontal Zonation
: A mountain depicting a Horizontal Zonation

ii. Vertical Stratification

  • Vertical stratification refers to the vertical variation in community structure within an ecosystem. It is characterized by the division of a community into different layers or strata, each with distinct characteristics and species composition. Vertical stratification can be observed in various ecosystems, ranging from pond communities to grasslands and forests.
  • In a simple example of vertical stratification, we can consider a pond community where different zones exist vertically. Each zone represents a different vertical storey with specific characteristics. For instance, the subterranean zone refers to the area beneath the soil, which includes plant roots, debris, and various soil organisms like bacteria, protozoa, and fungi. Above the soil, the herbaceous substratum includes the upper parts of herbaceous growth forms. This stratification within the pond community is a reflection of the vertical changes in environmental conditions and the adaptations of organisms to those conditions.
  • Similarly, in grassland communities, vertical stratification can be observed. Different layers or floors within the grassland exhibit distinct growth forms. The lowest vertical subdivision is the subterranean layer, consisting of roots, soil organisms, and organic matter. Above that, the herbaceous substratum includes the above-ground parts of herbaceous plants. This vertical stratification allows for the coexistence of different species and the efficient use of resources within the grassland ecosystem.
  • In forest communities, the vertical stratification is much more complex, typically consisting of multiple layers. The forest community can be divided into five main vertical layers: subterranean, forest floor (including litter, fungi, bacteria, etc.), herbaceous vegetation, shrubs, and the forest stratum, also known as the canopy. Additionally, in tropical rainforests, there may be an emergent layer consisting of trees that rise above the canopy. Each layer provides specific habitats and resources for different species, contributing to the overall biodiversity and complexity of the forest ecosystem.
  • The stratification within a community is influenced by various environmental factors such as light availability, temperature, and nutrient distribution. Organisms within the community are adapted to specific strata and may shift between different layers to fulfill their ecological needs. It is interesting to note that similar strata in different communities across geographically separated regions may share common requirements and adaptations. This phenomenon is observed as ecological equivalents, where organisms in similar substrata exhibit similar ecological characteristics despite being located in different parts of the world.
  • Vertical stratification plays a crucial role in structuring communities and promoting species diversity. It allows for the coexistence of different species with specialized adaptations and niche requirements. Understanding the vertical organization of communities provides valuable insights into the dynamics and functioning of ecosystems and helps in the conservation and management of biodiversity.
 Vertical Stratification in a forest community
Vertical Stratification in a forest community

2. Biological Structure and Characteristics of a Community

Characteristics of a Community

A community is characterized by several key features that help us understand its structure and dynamics:

  1. Structure: The structure of a community refers to the organization and arrangement of different species within it. This includes measuring the frequency, density, and abundance of each species present.
  2. Dominance: The dominant species in a community are those that occupy a significant amount of space or occur in large numbers. They have a strong influence on the community type and can shape its characteristics.
  3. Diversity: Communities exhibit diversity through the presence of different species of plants and animals belonging to various groups, growth forms, or life forms. Diverse communities are considered healthy and stable, as they can better adapt to changes in the environment.
  4. Periodicity: The study of dominant species throughout various seasons allows us to understand their life processes such as reproduction, growth, and respiration. Periodicity refers to the regular occurrence and expression of these life processes on an annual basis.
  5. Stratification: Stratification refers to the arrangement of habitats within a community, either vertically or horizontally. Different types of communities may exhibit different stratification patterns. For example, lake communities often show horizontal stratification, while mountain plant communities display vertical stratification.
  6. Eco-tone and Edge-effect: Ecotones are transition zones between two distinct types of communities, characterized by a mix of species from both communities. Ecotones tend to have higher species diversity compared to the adjacent communities, a phenomenon known as edge-effect.
  7. Ecological Niche: The ecological niche of a species refers to the role or function it plays within its ecosystem. Each species has a specific niche defined by its interactions with other species and its environment. It can be seen as the species’ profession within the ecosystem.
  8. Community Productivity: Community productivity measures the net storage of energy and biomass production over time by the community as a whole. It provides insights into the overall functioning and energy flow within the community.
  9. Biotic Stability: Biotic stability refers to the community’s ability to regain equilibrium after disturbances that cause population fluctuations. The diversity of the community plays a vital role in maintaining its stability.

In addition to these characteristics, species richness and species diversity are important measures of community structure. Species richness refers to the number of different species present in a community, while species diversity takes into account both species richness and the relative abundance or evenness of each species. Evaluating species richness and diversity helps assess the conservation value of a habitat and understand the relative abundance and distribution of species within a community.

Krebs (1994) identified five key characteristics for studying communities: growth forms and life forms, species richness, dominance, relative abundance, and trophic structure. These factors, along with others, contribute to the structure of a community. Let’s discuss two important aspects of community structure: species richness and species diversity.

a. Species Richness

Species richness refers to the total number of different species present in a community. It provides a count of the variety of species within an ecological habitat, landscape, or community. Species richness does not take into account the abundance or relative abundance of each species. For example, counting beetles from a pitfall trap would contribute to species richness. Factors such as sample heterogeneity and the number of species present influence species richness. Collecting samples from diverse environments and habitats increases the recorded species richness. Therefore, it is advisable to perform sampling on large areas with a heterogeneous environment and a sizable population. Species richness aids in assessing the conservation value of landscapes or habitats through relative comparisons. Although it does not consider the specific types of species, areas with rare species hold higher conservation value compared to areas with an equal number of commonly found species.

b. Species Diversity

Species diversity is a measure of biodiversity that encompasses species richness as well as species evenness. It considers the relative abundance of each species within a community. Major indices used to evaluate species diversity include the Shannon-Weiner Index and Simpson’s Index. Species evenness reflects the equitable distribution of individuals across different species. By considering both species richness and evenness, species diversity provides a more comprehensive understanding of the community’s composition and structure. It allows for a more nuanced assessment of the ecological balance and health of a community.

Species Diversity
Community “1” & Community “2”

In summary, Krebs highlighted important characteristics for studying communities, including growth forms, life forms, species richness, dominance, relative abundance, and trophic structure. Species richness quantifies the number of species in a community, while species diversity takes into account both species richness and the equitable distribution of individuals among species. These metrics help us understand the biodiversity and ecological dynamics within a community.

In both communities, there are three types of plant species, indicating the same species richness. However, the relative abundance differs between the communities.

In community “1,” species A, B, and C are equally represented, with three individuals of each species. This equal distribution suggests higher species evenness, which in turn indicates higher species diversity within the community.

On the other hand, in community “2,” species C is more abundant compared to species A and B. This uneven distribution results in lower species evenness and consequently lower species diversity within the community.

Therefore, although both communities have the same species richness, the differences in relative abundance of species contribute to variations in species evenness and diversity.

Both communities exhibit the same species richness with three types of plant species. However, the relative abundance of these species varies between the communities.

In community “1,” species A, B, and C are equally represented, each accounting for three individuals. This equal distribution of individuals indicates higher species evenness, which in turn reveals higher species diversity within the community.

On the other hand, in community “2,” species C is more abundant compared to species A and B. This uneven distribution results in lower species evenness and consequently lower species diversity within the community.

Diversity indices

Diversity indices are used to measure the species diversity in a given community, taking into account both species richness and species abundance. The two commonly used diversity indices are the Shannon-Weiner Index and the Simpson Index.

Shannon-Weiner Index

The Shannon-Weiner Index is an information statistic index and is calculated using the equation:

Shannon-Weiner Index
Shannon-Weiner Index

Where N is the total number of individuals found, n is the number of individuals of a particular species, p is the proportion of that species (n/N), Σ denotes the sum of the calculations, and s represents the species richness (number of species in the community).

Simpson Index (Ds)

On the other hand, the Simpson Index is a dominance index that is influenced by the presence of dominant or common species. It is calculated using the equation:

Simpson Index (Ds)
Simpson Index (Ds)

Where N is the total number of individuals in a particular species, n is the number of individuals of that species, p is the proportion of that species (n/N), and Σ denotes the sum of the calculations.

The Simpson index emphasizes the dominance of certain species and does not consider rare species with low representation in the measurement of diversity. It was introduced by Edward H. Simpson in 1949 and is sometimes referred to as the Herfindahl-Hirschman Index (HHI) or Herfindahl Index in economics, as it was independently rediscovered by Orris C. Herfindahl in 1950.

Gini–Simpson index

Additionally, the Gini-Simpson index is a transformation of the Simpson index that represents the probability of encountering two entities of different types (1 – λ). It is also known as the probability of interspecific encounter (PIE) in ecology.

Gini–Simpson index
Gini–Simpson index

Overall, these diversity indices provide quantitative measures to assess and compare species diversity in ecological communities.

c. Dominance

  • Dominance in a community refers to the phenomenon where certain species or a prominent species within a group exert a higher level of influence or control over others through interactions. These dominant organisms are known as dominants.
  • In ecology, dominance is measured by comparing the proportion of biomass or abundance of one species or taxon to that of other interacting species or taxa within a community. The presence of dominant species plays a defining role in shaping the ecological community. For example, in Western European woodland areas, the tree species Alnus glutinosa (Alder) is a dominant species that helps classify or identify the type of ecology present.
  • There are several criteria by which a community can be considered dominant. One criterion is the occupation of maximum space within the community habitat. Dominant species may also have the highest biomass or play a critical role in nutrient cycling, energy flow, or regulation of other organisms within the community.
  • However, dominance is not solely determined by numerical abundance (i.e., being more numerous) but can be influenced by microclimates within the community. Microclimates are local environmental variations in factors such as nutrient levels, moisture, and topographic location. These microclimates can contribute to the presence of more dominant species in specific areas.
  • Ultimately, the importance and impact of a species in shaping the structure and function of the community determine its dominance. In some cases, even a low-density group of species or a single species can exhibit dominance if it fulfills critical ecological functions within the community.

Keystone species

  • Keystone species are dominant plants or animals that play a crucial and unique role in their ecosystem.
  • Despite their abundance, keystone species have a disproportionately high impact on the community’s structure and function.
  • They form intense inter-species associations that control the number and types of other species within the community.
  • Removing a keystone species leads to a dramatic shift in the community, resulting in a new structure and function.
  • An example of a keystone species is the starfish Pisaster ochraceus, which acts as a keystone predator.
  • The starfish preys on mussels, sea urchins, and other shellfish, controlling their populations.
  • Removing the starfish would cause the mussels and sea urchins to proliferate, altering the community.
  • In a prey-predator system, small predators like weevil E. lecontei feed on herbaceous species called E. watermifoil.
  • E. watermifoil can eliminate dominant plant species, but E. lecontei controls its growth by preying on it.
  • If E. lecontei is removed, the E. watermifoil population would increase dramatically, leading to the disappearance of dominant species.
  • Keystone species indirectly alter the community’s character, while dominant species directly control it.
  • Ecological dominance can be determined through relative abundance, relative dominance, and relative frequency.
  • Relative abundance compares the total abundance of all organisms to the numerically dominant species in a sample.
  • Relative dominance measures how much a species occupies the entire area of the community.
  • Relative frequency assesses dominance among species of different sizes based on their occurrence within the community.
  • Combining these measurements helps rank species and identify index species with high importance.
  • Understanding keystone species through these measurements provides insights into community dynamics and functioning.

Sporadically/Locally abundant

  • The term “sporadically abundant” refers to a situation where the abundance of a species within a sample is high, despite its low frequency of occurrence across all samples. In other words, the species may not be commonly found in every sample, but when it does appear, it exists in high numbers.
  • To measure and calculate relative species abundance, various sampling methods can be employed. These methods include track count, spotlight count, monitoring point pressure, roadkill counts, and plant cover assessment for plant species, among others. These techniques allow researchers to gather data on the presence and abundance of species within a given area.
  • To calculate the relative abundance of a species within a community, the following formula can be used:
  • Relative abundance of species = Number of individuals of a species from one sampling / Total number of individuals of all species from all samplings
  • By comparing the number of individuals of a particular species in one sample to the total number of individuals of all species from all samples, the relative abundance of that species can be determined.
  • This measurement of relative species abundance helps in understanding the distribution and prevalence of species within a community. It provides valuable insights into the ecological dynamics and composition of the ecosystem.

d. Ecotone

Ecotone is a transitional area where two different ecosystems meet and integrate. It can occur at various scales, ranging from regional ecotones between larger ecosystems like grassland and forest, to local ecotones between smaller ecosystems like forest and field. Ecotones can have varying widths, appearing as clear boundaries with homogenous surfaces or as gradual blending zones between the two communities.

Formation of ecotone: The formation of an ecotone occurs when there is a change in the physical environment. For example, when a forest transitions into a cleared land area, a clear and sharp interface is created between the two communities. In other cases, a gradual blending interface is formed when unique local species and species common to both interacting communities are found together. This blending often occurs in mountain ranges. Additionally, many wetlands are considered ecotones, such as the woodlands of Western Europe.

Different forms of ecotones
Different forms of ecotones

There are different types of ecotones based on specific environmental gradients:

  • Halocline: This type of ecotone is characterized by a gradient in salinity. It occurs when there is a transition zone between water bodies with different levels of salt concentration.
  • Thermocline: Thermocline ecotones are defined by a gradient in temperature. They occur when there is a transition zone between bodies of water with varying temperatures.
  • Pycnocline: Pycnocline ecotones involve a gradient in water density. They occur when there is a transition zone between water bodies with different densities.
  • Chemocline: Chemocline ecotones are characterized by a gradient in chemical composition. They occur when there is a transition zone between areas with varying chemical concentrations.

Ecotones play a significant role in shaping biodiversity and ecological processes. They often support unique species assemblages that are adapted to the specific conditions of the transition zone. Additionally, ecotones serve as important corridors for species movement, facilitating the exchange of genetic material and promoting ecological connectivity between ecosystems. Understanding and protecting ecotones are crucial for conserving biodiversity and maintaining ecosystem health.

Features

Features of an ecotone can be observed and identified based on various indicators:

  1. Vegetation Transition: A noticeable change in vegetation, such as a shift in grass colors or plant types, can indicate the presence of an ecotone. The sharp transition in vegetation serves as a visual cue for identifying the boundary between two ecosystems.
  2. Physiognomy: Ecotones often exhibit a distinct difference in the physical appearance of plant species. The structure, growth forms, and overall physiognomy of plants can vary across the ecotone, indicating the transition between different ecological communities.
  3. Change in Species: Ecotones are characterized by a change in species composition. Specific organisms may be observed predominantly on one side of the ecotone boundary, while different organisms may be more prevalent on the other side. This change in species distribution is an indicator of the ecotone.
  4. Spatial Mass Effect: In some cases, the establishment of new plants or the migration of species can obscure the boundaries of an ecotone. If these species cannot form self-sustaining populations within the different ecosystems, but persist in the transition zone, the ecotone can exhibit higher species richness due to the spatial mixing of species.
  5. Exotic Species Abundance: Ecotones can provide insights into the efficiency of space sharing between two communities and the types of biomes present. The abundance of exotic species within the ecotone can reveal the impact of species from different ecosystems and their interactions within the transition zone.
  6. Valuable for Ecosystem Studies: Ecotones serve as excellent models for studying diverse ecosystems. The unique conditions and species assemblages found within ecotones allow researchers to investigate ecological processes, species interactions, and the dynamics of biodiversity in these transitional areas.
  7. Shift in Dominance: Ecotones can represent a shift in dominance between different species or communities. The dominant species on one side of the ecotone may differ from those on the other side, indicating a change in ecological dynamics and community structure.
  8. Edge Effect and Ecological Niche: Ecotones act as ecological niches, providing opportunities for species to colonize and thrive at the junction of two ecosystems. This edge effect can create unique habitat conditions, resource availability, and species interactions that differ from those in the adjacent ecosystems.
  9. Ecoclines: Ecotones are often accompanied by ecoclines, which are physical transition zones between biological systems. Ecoclines can manifest as gradients in hydrothermal conditions, salinity levels, pH values, or other physiochemical environmental factors. These gradients serve as signals of the ecotone and contribute to the microclimatic or chemical changes observed across the transitional area.

By studying these features, ecotones can be recognized, characterized, and used to enhance our understanding of ecological processes, species distributions, and the dynamics of ecosystems.

e. Edge Effects

Edge effects refer to the changes in population and community structure that occur at the boundaries or edges of merged habitats, typically resulting in greater biodiversity. Ecotones, which are transitional areas between two ecosystems, often exhibit edge effects due to the distinct environmental conditions and vegetation found at the boundary.

Different types of edge effects can be identified:

  1. Narrow Edge Effect: This type of edge effect occurs when there is an abrupt transition between one habitat and another. The boundary between the two habitats is sharp and clearly defined.
  2. Wide Edge Effect: In contrast to the narrow edge effect, a wide edge effect occurs when there is a significant distance between the two habitats. This can result in a broader transitional area or ecotone.
  3. Induced Edge Effect: Induced edge effects are structural changes that develop over time due to human interference or natural disturbances, such as fires. These changes alter the characteristics of the edge and can influence the composition and dynamics of species populations.
  4. Inherent Edge Effect: Inherent edge effects occur when the border between two habitats is naturally formed and stabilized by natural features, such as topography or geological formations. These features contribute to the distinctive edge conditions.
  5. Perforated Edge Effect: Perforated edge effects are characterized by gaps or interruptions in the distance between two habitats. These gaps can provide opportunities for the establishment of additional habitats or can assist in the movement of species between habitats.
  6. Convoluted Edge Effect: Convoluted edge effects involve a nonlinear division between two habitats. The boundary may exhibit twists, turns, or irregular shapes, leading to a complex and convoluted edge.

These different types of edge effects influence the species composition, population dynamics, and ecological processes occurring within the transitional zones. Edge effects can create unique microclimates, resource availability, and species interactions, often leading to increased biodiversity and specialized ecological niches. Understanding edge effects is important for studying the dynamics of ecosystems, conservation efforts, and managing the impacts of habitat fragmentation and human activities on natural habitats.

Edge effects on Succession

  • Edge effects can have significant impacts on the process of succession in vegetation. As vegetation spreads and establishes in an area, the presence of edges between habitats or ecosystems can create unique conditions that influence the trajectory of succession.
  • One way in which edge effects affect succession is through differential species distribution. Different species may colonize and establish themselves either in the central portions of a habitat or at the edges. This can result in variations in species composition and population dynamics along the edge-to-interior gradient. The edge conditions, such as increased light availability or altered microclimatic factors, may favor certain species that are adapted to those specific conditions. As a result, the distribution of species within the community can be influenced by the presence of edges.
  • In addition to species distribution, other structural factors contribute to the effects of edges on succession. Seasonal and diurnal fluctuations play a role in population dynamics within communities. Fluctuations in population sizes and species composition can occur over space and time, influenced by environmental factors such as light, temperature, and resource availability. These fluctuations can be particularly pronounced at the edges due to the unique conditions present in those areas.
  • Pattern diversity is another structural factor affected by edge effects. Communities organize themselves based on patterns of diversity, which can include horizontal segregation or vertical stratification. The presence of edges can create distinct patterns and gradients of species distribution and community structure. The edge-to-interior gradient may exhibit changes in vegetation patterns, such as shifts in species dominance or shifts in vertical structure.
  • Overall, edge effects on succession involve the interplay between species distribution, population dynamics, and structural patterns within a community. The presence of edges introduces unique environmental conditions and influences the trajectory of succession. Understanding these edge effects is essential for comprehending the dynamics of ecological communities, managing habitats, and conserving biodiversity in fragmented landscapes.

Classification and Naming of Communities

Classification and naming of communities is an important aspect of ecological study and allows for the description, comparison, and understanding of different habitats and regions. There are various approaches to community classification, each serving a specific purpose and viewpoint.

  1. Physiognomy-based Classification: One commonly used approach is based on the physiognomy or gross structure of the community. Communities are named and classified based on the dominant life forms or species present, such as oyster-bed or coral reef communities, deciduous or coniferous forests, and tall or short grass prairies. This approach is suitable when there are multiple dominant life forms or species groups within a community.
  2. Habitat-based Classification: Communities can also be classified based on the physical appearance of the habitat or ecosystem. This includes habitats like sand dunes, streams, tidal mud flats, and ponds. Communities with well-defined boundaries are often regarded as distinct natural units or associations.
  3. Continuum Classification: In some cases, communities form a sequence along an environmental gradient, where each community blends into the next. This is referred to as a continuum. Ecologists use statistical criteria to sequence communities along the gradient, considering similarity coefficients and frequency distributions. Statistical ordination techniques are employed to classify plant communities along the continuum.
  4. Species Composition-based Classification: Another approach focuses on the species composition of communities, particularly emphasizing fidelity, constancy, dominance, and diagnostic species. Communities can be grouped into associations, alliances, orders, and classes based on these characteristics. Fidelity refers to the species’ faithfulness towards a particular community type, while constancy measures the proportion of constant species within a community.
  5. Closed and Open Communities: H.A. Gleason proposed the concept of closed and open communities. Closed communities have distinct boundaries and are ecological units where organisms live together due to their adaptation potential to specific environmental limitations. Ecotones, the edges between different habitat types, show high species diversity and variation. Open communities, on the other hand, lack sharp boundaries and have co-occurring and independently distributed species within a particular association.

Overall, classification and naming of communities provide a framework for studying and comparing ecological units. Different classification approaches consider physiognomy, habitat, species composition, and ecological dynamics, offering insights into the organization and diversity of communities in various habitats and regions.

Community stability

Community stability refers to the ability of an ecological community to remain relatively unchanged or recover quickly following environmental stresses, disasters, and disturbances. The complexity of species interactions and the adaptability of species within the community contribute to its stability.

One way to understand community stability is through four concepts proposed by Vădineanu in 1998: resilience, persistence, resistance, and variability. Resilience refers to the speed at which a community returns to its equilibrium state after a disturbance. Communities with high resilience can quickly recover from disturbances. Persistence is the duration of the equilibrium state, with stable systems exhibiting greater persistence. Resistance measures the ability of a community to resist variation in state variables when faced with external factors. Stable systems have high resistance. Variability refers to the frequency of changes in state variables, and stable ecological systems exhibit low variability.

Equilibrium communities can be viewed from the perspectives of resistance and resilience. Resistance refers to the ability of a community to withstand disturbances without significant changes to its structure. Forest communities, for example, have large biotic structures and are relatively resistant to disturbances such as drought, temperature fluctuations, and insect outbreaks. Resilience, on the other hand, is the speed at which a community returns to its original equilibrium state following a disturbance. Communities with high resilience can recover quickly. Some systems may have high resistance but low resilience, while others exhibit low resistance and high resilience.

In contrast to the equilibrium theory, which suggests that ecological communities tend to reach and maintain an equilibrium state, non-equilibrium communities are more common in nature. Environmental disturbances prevent communities from reaching a stable equilibrium and instead keep them in a state of non-equilibrium. Connell proposed the “intermediate disturbances hypothesis,” which suggests that intermediate levels of disturbances maintain the highest diversity in non-equilibrium communities. According to this hypothesis, communities with very high or very low disturbance frequencies and sizes have lower diversity, while intermediate disturbances promote higher diversity.

In summary, community stability is influenced by factors such as resilience, persistence, resistance, and variability. While equilibrium communities strive for a stable state, non-equilibrium communities thrive in the presence of moderate disturbances, which can enhance diversity. Understanding community stability is crucial for managing and conserving ecosystems in the face of environmental changes and disturbances.

What is Climax community?

A climax community refers to a stable and relatively mature stage in the successional sequence or sere of an ecosystem. It represents the end product of ecological succession under specific environmental conditions. While it is considered a steady state, it is important to note that the climax community is not static and undergoes continuous changes in terms of species composition, structure, and energy flow, albeit at a slower and less dramatic pace compared to earlier successional stages.

The characteristics of a climax community include several key aspects:

  1. Self-Tolerance: The climax community is capable of tolerating the environmental conditions it experiences, as it has adapted to its specific set of circumstances.
  2. Mesic Nature: Climax communities often exhibit a medium moisture content, known as being mesic, rather than being excessively dry (xeric) or wet (hydric). This moisture balance supports a diverse array of species.
  3. Higher Organization: The climax community tends to be more highly organized compared to earlier successional stages. This organization is reflected in the complexity of species interactions, community structure, and energy flow patterns.
  4. Species Richness and Niche Diversity: Due to its advanced stage of development, the climax community typically contains a larger number of species and provides a greater variety of niches, allowing for a wider range of ecological roles and interactions among organisms.
  5. Life History Strategies: Species within the climax community generally exhibit traits that differ from those of earlier successional species. They tend to be relatively large, long-lived, and have a lower biotic potential (K-selected species), as opposed to the smaller, shorter-lived, and high-reproductive-potential species (r-selected species) commonly found in earlier successional stages.
  6. Energy Dynamics: In the climax community, energy flow reaches a state of equilibrium, where the net primary production (the amount of energy captured by photosynthesis) is balanced by community respiration. This balance results in zero net primary production, indicating a stable energy state.
  7. Stability and Permanence: Climax communities are considered more stable and permanent compared to the earlier, more dynamic stages of succession. This stability is characterized by the community’s ability to persist and resist major changes over time.
  8. Resistance to Invasion: Climax communities are generally less susceptible to colonization by new species compared to earlier successional stages. The complex interactions and established species composition in the climax community create a more resistant environment for invasions.

In summary, a climax community represents the mature stage of ecological succession, characterized by stability, species richness, niche diversity, and a balanced energy flow. While it is not entirely static and continues to undergo changes, it exhibits greater organization, stability, and resistance to disturbances compared to earlier successional stages.

Theories of the climax

The theories of the climax community provide different perspectives on the nature and stability of climax communities in ecological succession:

  1. Mono-climax Theory: Proposed by Clements, this theory suggests that every region has a single climax community that all other communities are progressing towards. According to this theory, climate is the primary determinant of vegetation, and the climax community of an area is solely a result of its climate. Deviations from the climatically stabilized climax, such as sub-climaxes or dis-climaxes, are considered exceptions controlled by topographic, edaphic (soil), or biotic factors.
  2. Poly-climax Theory: Introduced by Tansley and supported by Daubenmire, the poly-climax theory argues that multiple types of climax communities can exist within a given area. These climaxes are influenced by factors such as soil moisture, soil nutrients, animal activity, and other variables. Climate is seen as just one of several factors that can control the structure and stability of climax communities. The poly-climax theory recognizes the possibility of multiple climaxes within a climate region.

The difference between the mono-climax and poly-climax theories lies in their emphasis on the primary factor responsible for the stability of a climax community. The mono-climax theory focuses on climate, while the poly-climax theory acknowledges the influence of various factors, leading to the coexistence of multiple climax types.

  1. Climax-pattern Theory: Proposed by Whittaker, this theory emphasizes that a natural community is adapted to the entire pattern of environmental factors within its habitat. It recognizes that climax communities represent patterns of populations that vary based on the totality of environmental conditions, including genetic structure, climate, site characteristics, soil properties, biotic interactions, disturbances (such as fire and wind), species availability, and chances of dispersal. According to this theory, there is no discrete number of climax communities, and no single factor determines the structure and stability of a climax community. Instead, climaxes are viewed as gradual variations along environmental gradients.
  2. Climax as Vegetation: Egler’s perspective suggests that “climaxes” are essentially the totality of vegetation itself. He emphasizes the importance of studying vegetation as it is, observing and interpreting the past, present, and future conditions of specific communities. Egler’s approach highlights the dynamic nature of vegetation and the need for careful observation to understand the complexities of successional change.

In conclusion, these theories recognize that the climax community represents an endpoint in succession, but it is not completely stable. While climate exerts overall control on vegetation, there are modifications caused by soil, topography, and animal activity that lead to various climax situations within broad climatic zones. Climax communities do not necessarily represent a complete halt to successional change, as they continue to undergo subtle transformations over time.

Importance of Community

The importance of community lies in the interactions it facilitates among species. Here are some key reasons why community is significant:

  • Nutritional Interactions: Within a community, species depend on each other for nutrition. Some organisms, such as animals, rely on plants and other animals as a source of food. For instance, herbivores consume plants for sustenance, while carnivores feed on other animals. Additionally, plants generate their own food through photosynthesis, which requires carbon dioxide provided by animals as a byproduct of their metabolic processes. This nutritional interdependence ensures the flow of energy and nutrients within the community.
  • Oxygen and Carbon Dioxide Exchange: Plants play a vital role in communities by producing oxygen through photosynthesis. This oxygen is crucial for the survival of many animal species, as they utilize it for their own metabolic needs. Simultaneously, animals release carbon dioxide, which is utilized by plants as a reactant for photosynthesis. This exchange of gases between plants and animals maintains a balance in atmospheric composition and sustains life on Earth.
  • Shelter and Habitat: Community members often provide safe havens and suitable habitats for other organisms. For example, a tree can serve as a home to various species, including epiphytes (plants growing on the tree’s surface), lichens, insects, and arachnids. Such microhabitats within the community offer protection from predators, exposure to weather elements, and serve as breeding grounds or nesting sites. The availability of diverse habitats within a community supports biodiversity and the overall health of ecosystems.
  • Trophic Interactions: Community interactions also involve trophic relationships, such as food chains and food webs. These interactions define the flow of energy and the transfer of nutrients across different levels of the community. Producers, such as plants, convert solar energy into chemical energy through photosynthesis, which is then consumed by primary consumers (herbivores). This energy is subsequently transferred to higher trophic levels, including secondary consumers (carnivores) and tertiary consumers (top predators). Trophic interactions contribute to the stability and functioning of ecosystems.
  • Mutualistic Relationships: Communities foster mutualistic interactions, where two or more species benefit from their association. Examples include pollination, where plants rely on animals (such as bees or birds) for transferring pollen between flowers, enabling reproduction. Additionally, mutualistic symbiotic relationships, like the partnership between certain plants and nitrogen-fixing bacteria in their roots, contribute to nutrient cycling and enhance the overall productivity of the community.

FAQ

What is a community in ecology?

A community in ecology refers to a group of interacting organisms that live in the same habitat and interact with each other.

What are the different types of communities?

There are various types of communities, including major communities (self-regulating ecological units) and minor communities (dependent on larger communities). Communities can also be classified as open (allowing for new species to invade) or closed (limited in their capacity to support additional species).

How do species interact within a community?

Species interact within a community through various mechanisms such as predation, competition, mutualism, and symbiosis. These interactions play a crucial role in shaping the structure and dynamics of the community.

What is the importance of community in ecosystems?

Communities are essential for maintaining ecosystem function. They facilitate species interactions, nutrient cycling, energy flow, and provide ecosystem services such as pollination, seed dispersal, and decomposition.

Can communities change over time?

Yes, communities can change over time through a process called succession. Succession involves the gradual replacement of one community by another as environmental conditions change or disturbances occur.

What factors influence the composition and diversity of a community?

Several factors can influence the composition and diversity of a community, including climate, habitat availability, resource availability, predation, competition, and disturbances such as fires or floods.

How do communities respond to environmental disturbances?

Communities can respond to environmental disturbances in different ways. Some species may be more resistant or resilient, while others may be more susceptible to disturbance. Disturbances can also create opportunities for new species to colonize and alter the community structure.

Are all species in a community equally important?

Not all species in a community have equal importance. Some species, known as keystone species, have a disproportionately large impact on the community dynamics and ecosystem function. Their presence or absence can significantly affect the structure and stability of the community.

Can communities exist in different habitats?

Yes, communities can exist in various habitats, including terrestrial, aquatic, and even extreme environments like deserts or deep-sea ecosystems. Each habitat supports unique communities adapted to the specific conditions of that environment.

How do human activities impact communities?

Human activities, such as habitat destruction, pollution, overexploitation, and climate change, can have significant impacts on communities. These activities can disrupt species interactions, reduce biodiversity, and negatively affect the functioning and resilience of ecosystems.

References

  • https://www.khanacademy.org/science/ap-biology/ecology-ap/biodiversity/a/community-structure
  • http://www.dspmuranchi.ac.in/pdf/Blog/CamScanner%2004-16-2020%2012.44.15_20200416124924.pdf
  • https://nsdl.niscpr.res.in/bitstream/123456789/813/1/Community%20Characteristics%20-%20Formatted.pdf
  • https://www.turito.com/learn/biology/nature-of-communities
  • https://www.biologydiscussion.com/ecology/study-of-communities-meaning-and-community-composition/6770
  • https://www.yourarticlelibrary.com/ecology/community-ecology-definition-and-characteristics-of-community-ecology/28213
  • https://old.amu.ac.in/emp/studym/100019251.pdf
  • https://www.biologyonline.com/dictionary/community-biology
  • https://jogamayadevicollege.ac.in/uploads/1585578693.pdf
  • https://www.zoologytalks.com/communities-of-the-environment/
  • https://epgp.inflibnet.ac.in/epgpdata/uploads/epgp_content/S000035ZO/P000891/M020611/ET/1498710716CommunitycharacteristicsstratificationPart3Quad1.pdf

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