Community Ecology

Herman A. Verhoef

in Ecology

ISBN: 9780199830060
Published online May 2012 | | DOI:
Community Ecology

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  • Applied Ecology (Environmental Science)
  • Ecology and Conservation
  • Plant Ecology
  • Zoology and Animal Sciences


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At the beginning of the 20th century there was much debate about the “nature” of communities. The driving question was whether the community was a self-organized system of co-occurring species or simply a haphazard collection of populations with minimal functional integration. At that time, two extreme views dominated the discussion: one view considered a community as a superorganism, the member species of which were tightly bound together by interactions that contributed to repeatable patterns of species abundance in space and time. This concept led to the assumption that communities are fundamental entities, to be classified as the Linnaean taxonomy of species. Frederick E. Clements was one of the leading proponents of this approach, and his view became known as the organismic concept of communities. This assumes a common evolutionary history for the integrated species. The opposite view was the individualistic continuum concept, advocated by H. A. Gleason. His focus was on the traits of individual species that allow each to live within specific habitats or geographical ranges. In this view a community is an assemblage of populations of different species whose traits allow persisting in a prescribed area. The spatial boundaries are not sharp, and the species composition can change considerably. Consequently, it was discussed whether ecological communities were sufficiently coherent entities to be considered appropriate study objects. Later, consensus was reached: that properties of communities are of central interest in ecology, regardless of their integrity and coherence. From the 1950s and 1960s onward, the discussion was dominated by the deterministic outcome of local interactions between species and their environments and the building of this into models of communities. This approach, indicated as “traditional community ecology,” led to a morass of theoretical models, without being able to provide general principles about many-species communities. Early-21st-century approaches to bringing general patterns into community ecology concern (1) the metacommunity approach, (2) the functional trait approach, (3) evolutionary community ecology, and (4) the four fundamental processes. The metacommunity approach implicitly recognizes and studies the important role of spatiotemporal dynamics. In the functional trait approach, four themes are focused upon: traits, environmental gradients, the interaction milieu, and performance currencies. This functional, trait-focused approach should have a better prospect of understanding the effects of global changes. Evolutionary community ecology is an approach in which the combination of community ecology and evolutionary biology will lead to a better understanding of the complexity of communities and populations. The four fundamental processes are selection, drift, speciation, and dispersal. This approach concerns an organizational scheme for community ecology, based on these four processes to describe all existing specific models and frameworks, in order to make general statements about process–pattern connections.

Article.  5005 words. 

Subjects: Applied Ecology (Environmental Science) ; Ecology and Conservation ; Plant Ecology ; Zoology and Animal Sciences

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