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PRICIPLES AND CONCEPTS PERTAINING TO

ORGANIZATION AT THE COMMUNITY LEVEL


1.THE BIOTIC COMMUNITY CONCEPT

Biotic Community
is any assemblage of populations living in a prescribed area or
physical habitat; it is an organized unit to the extent that it has characteristics
additonal to its individual and population components.
It is also a broad term which may be used to disegnate natural
asemblages of various sizes, from the biota of a log to that of a vast forest or
ocean
Major Communities are those which are of sufficient size and
completeness of organization that they are relatively independent; that is,
they need only to receive sun energy from the outside and are relatively
independent of inputs and outputs from adjacent communities.
Minor Communities are those which are more or less dependent on
neighboring aggregations. Communities not only have a difinite functional
unity with characteristic trophic structures patterns of energy flow but they
also have compositional unity in that there is a certain probability that
certain species will occur together. However, species are to a large extent
replaceable in time and space so that functionally similar communities
may have different species compositions.
The community concept is one of the most important principles in ecological
thought and in ecological practice. It is important in ecological theory because it
emphasizes the fact that diverse organism usually live together in an orderly manner,
not just haphazardly strewn over the earth as independent beings. Like an ameba, the
biotic community is constantly changing its appearance (visualize the forest in autumn
and in spring), but it has structures and functions which can be studied and described,
and which are unique attributes of the group. Victor E. Shelford a pioneer in the
field of biotic community ecology, has defined the community as an “assemblage with
unity of taxonomic composition and a relatively uniform appearance.” To this we might
add: “and with a defnite trophic or ganization and metabolic pattern.”Communities may
be sharply defined and separated from each other; this would be the case, of course,
when the community habitats exhibit abrupt changes,but relatively sharp boundaries
may also be the result of community interaction itself.
The community concept is important in the practice of
ecology because “as the community goes, so goes the
organism. “ Thus, often the best way to “control” a particular
organism, wheter we wish to encourage or discourage it,is to
modify the community, rather than to make a direct “attack” on
the organism.
Two Major Communities

Sagebrush Community
occupied areas where “the precipitation is greater (about twice as
great) and/or where the soil is deep, more permeable, and relatively
saline free.”

Shad Scale Community


occured where it was drier and where the soil was often
impregnated with mineral salts. Within the shad scale major community
there were a number of well-developed minor communities determined
by differences in the availability of soil moisture.
All communities,major and minor,had rather sharp boundaries.
Large animals,especially predators,were found to range
throughout major communities and from one major community to
another.
Smaller animals and many plants,on the other hand,were
restricted to or had their greatest abundance in particular major or minor
communities.
Birds,rodents,lizards,ants,spiders,and tenebrionid beetles
showed particular adaptations for ling under dry conditions and
consequently comprised the bulk of the animal population.Rodents were
particularly important to the community as a whole because of their
“grazing” and burrowing activities.
Figure 6-1. (A) Standing crop (B)
Energy Flow of the Silver Springs
community. Mean Biomass and annual
energy flow are partitioned into five
trophic groups as follows: producers (P),
herbivores (H), carnivores (C), too
carnivores(TC),and decomposers (D).
“Stumpknokers” are centrarchid fish.
Lepomis punctatus,the most common
small fish in the spring. (After H, T.
Odum, 1957,)
1. Silver Springs is a thermostatic,chemostatic,and biostatic ecological
community in seasonally pulsing steady-state climax.
2. The rate of primary production of the whole community is linearly
proportional to the light intensity under natural conditions.
3. The efficiency of primary production relative to incoming light of
usable wave lenghts reaching plant level is about 5.3 percent.
4. The community eperiences an annual turnover of 8 times.
5. Most of the production goes into respiration,but 12 percent is exported
downstream in the form of particulate matter.
6. A large aquatic insect emergence occurs in the evening at all times of
the year, but only a small proportion of larval production ever emerges.
7. Some of the main invertebrate and fish components exhibit a strong
photoperiodism in breeding cycles in this constant temperature spring.
8. The community metabolic quotient (O/CO) averaged 1.38 in summer
nd 0.95 in winter,indicating 39 percent protein in primary production
where nitrogen fixation is involved.
9. Bacteria constitute a relatively small part of the standing crop
biomass, but next to green plants arc the main consumers in terms of
energy utilization.
10. Succession of small organisms on individual eel grass (Sagittaria)
blades occurs continually as the leaves grow out from the bottom, but
the whole area is in steady state with a kind of stable succession
distribution possibly analogous to a stable age distribution .
2. INTACOMMUNITY CLASSIFICATION,AND CONCEPT OF ECOLOGICAL
DOMINANCE

STATEMENT
Not all organisms in the community are equally important in determining the
nature and function of the whole community.Out of the hundreds or thousands of
kinds of organisms that might be present in a community, a relatively few species or
species groups generaly exert the major controlling influence by virtue of their
numbers,size,production,or other activities.Relative importance in the community is
not indicated by taxonomic relations,since major controlling or “rulling” organisms
often belong to widely different taxonomic groups that have synergistic rathr than
competitive relationships.Intracommunity classification therefore goes beyond
taxonomic (floral and faunal) listing and attempts to evaluate the actual importance
of organisms in the community.The most logical primary classification from this
view point is based on trophic or other functional levels as discussed in Chapter 2
and 3.
Communities,at least major ones, have
producers,macroconsumers, and microconsumers.

Ecological Dominants
group of species which largely control the energy flow and
strongly affect the environment of all other species.
The degree to which dominance is concentrated in one,
several, or many species can be expressed by an appropriate
index of dominance that sums each species' importance in
relation to the community as a whole.
Explanation and Examples
The problem of classification within the biotic community may be
clarified by taking a simplified example.Suppose we took a walk over a
pasture and made a note of the important organisms which we
observed.
After such a “census” we might list:
bluegrass beef cattle turkeys
white clover dairy cattle sheep
oak trees chickens horses
Such a “taxonomic” listing alone would not give a very good picture of
the pasture.Adding a quantitative estimate would help:
From this it would be clear that bluegrass is
the “dominant” among the “producers”,and
blueegrass 48 acres dairy cattle among the “consumers,” The
white clover 2 acres community is essentially a dairy cattle
oak trees 2 individuals pasture.A more complete picture, of course,
would be obtained if we learned from the
beef cattle 2 individuals farmer the seasonal variation in use,the
dairy cattle 48 individuals annual hay and milk production,etc.,and if
we knew something about the activities of
chickens 6 individuals microorganisms in the soil.
turkeys 2 individuals Actually,of course,there are many
sheep 1 individuals other kinds of organisms in a pasture,but the
bluegrass and the cattle and the soil micro-
horses 1 individuals organisms are the most important from the
viewpoint of controlling influence from
man,the ultimate dominant in this case.)
Natural communities may have an even larger number of species. Even so,a
relatively few species often control the community and are said to be
dominant. This does not mean that the more numerous rare species are not
important;they are because they primarily determine diversity,an equally
important aspect of community structure that will be considered in Section
4.Removal of the dominant would result in important changes not only in the
biotic community but also in the physical environment (microclimate,for
example),whereas removal of a nondominant species would produce much
less change.Generally, dominants are those species in their trophic groups
which have largest productivity.In the Silver Springs community pictured in
Figure 6-1 the eel grass,Sagitaria,can be seen to be the dominant
autotroph.For large organisms,but not necessarily for small
organisms,biomass may be an indicator of dominance ,as we have had
occasion o emphasize previously.
Ecologists have used a wide variety of measurements to evaluate relative
importance of species,as for example,''basal area'' in forest communities (the cross
section area of tree trunks),or “cover” in a grassland (area ground surface
occupied).As which numbers and biomass,such specialized indices are applicable
only if the populations being compared have approximately the same size-
metabolism relationshisps.
In land communities,spermatophytes usually are major dominants not only among
the autotrophs in the community as a whole because they provide shelter for the
great bulk of the organisms in the community,and they modify physical factors in
various ways.In fact,the term dominant has been largely used by plant ecologists to
mean the “overstory”or taleest plants in the communit.
Clements and Shelford (1939) have pointed out that animals (consumers)
may also control communities.Where plants are small in size,animals may produce
relatively greater changes on the physical habitat.The concept of dominance has
not been applied to the saprotorphic level,but there is every reason to assume that
among the bacteria,etc.,some kinds are more important than others.
3.COMMUNITY ANALYSIS

Statement
Communities may be conveniently named and classified according to :
(1) Major structural features such as dominant species,life forms or indicators.
(2) The physical habitat of the community, or
(3) Functional attributes such as the type of community metabolism
No precise rules for naming communities have been formulated,as has
been done for naming or classifying organisms,if indeed such is desirable or
possible.Classifications based on structural features are rather specific for certain
environments;attempts to set up a universal classification on this basis have
largely been unsatisfactory .Functional attributes offer a better basis for the
comparison of all communities in widely different habitats,for
instance,terrestrial,marine,or freshwater.
Community analysis within a given geographical region or area of
landscape has featured to contructing approaches:
(1) The zonal approach,in which discrete communities are
recognized,classified,and listed in a sort of check-list of community
types
(2) The gradient analysis approach, which involves the arrangemnet
of population along a uni-or-multi-dimensional environmental gradient
or axis with community recognition based on frequency
distributions,similarity coeffient,or other statistcal comparisons.

Ω Ordination is frequently used to disignate the ordering of species


and communities along gradient
Ω Continuum to disegnate the gradient containing the ordered species
o communities.
In general, the steeper the environmental gradient,the
more distinct or discontinous are communities,not only
because of greater probability of abrupt changes in the
physical environment,but because boundaries are
sharpened by competition and coevolutionary proccesses
between interacting and interdependent species.
4. SPECIES DIVERSITY IN COMMUNITIES

Of the total number of species in a trophic component, or in a


community as a whole,a relatively small percent are usually abundant
(represented by large numbers of individuals,a large biomass productivity,or
other indication of “importance” )and a large percent are rare (have small
“impotance” values). While the few common species,or dominants,largely
account for the energy flow in each trophic group,it is the large number of
rare species that largely determine the species diversity of trophic groups
and whole communities.Ratios between the number of species and
“importance values” (numbers,biomass,productivity,and so on) of individuals
are called species diversity indices.Species diversity tends to be low in
physically controlled ecosystems (i.e., subjective to strong physiochemical
limiting factors) and high in biologically controlled ecosystems.
In general,diversity increases with a decrease in the ratio
of antithermal maintenance to biomass.It is directly correlated
with stability,but it is not certain to what extent this relationship
is a cause-and-effect one.
5. PATTERN IN COMMUNITIES

STATEMENT
The structures that results from the distributions of organisms
in,and their interaction with,their environment can be called pattern
(Hutchinson, 1953). Many difference kinds of arrangements in the
standing crop of organisms contribute to pattern diversity in the
community,as,for example:
(1) Stratification patterns (Vertical layering),
(2) Zonation patterns (horizontal segragation)
(3) Activity patterns (periodicity),
(4) Food-web patterns (network organization in food chains),
(5) Reproductive patterns (parent-offspring associations,plant
clones,etc.),
(6) Social patterns (flocks and herds),
(7) Coactive patterns (resulting from
competion,antibiosis,mutualism,etc.),
(8) StochaStic patterns (resulting from random forces).