, Volume 1, Issue 6, pp 511-523

Factors Influencing Succession: Lessons from Large, Infrequent Natural Disturbances

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Disturbance events vary in intensity, size, and frequency, but few opportunities exist to study those that are extreme on more than one of these gradients. This article characterizes successional processes that occur following infrequent disturbance events that are exceptional in their great intensity or large size. The spatial variability in disturbance intensity within large, infrequent disturbances (LIDs) often leads to a heterogeneous pattern of surviving organisms. These surviving organisms dictate much of the initial successional pattern on large disturbances where the opportunities for seeds to disperse into the middle of the disturbance are limited. The traditional distinction between primary and secondary succession is insufficient to capture the tremendous variability in succession following LIDs. Disturbance size influences succession where long-distance colonization by propagules is important. Observations from LIDs suggest the following interrelated hypotheses about trends in succession with increasing distance from seed sources when disturbanceintensity is high: (a) initial densities of organisms will be lower; (b) nucleation processes, in which recovering patches serve as foci for additional colonization and expand spatially, will be more important; (c) competitive sorting will be less important relative to chance arrival in determination of community composition, and (d) community composition will be initially less predictable; and (e) the rate of recovery of community composition will be slower. Prediction of succession following LIDs without considering contingencies such as the abundance, types, and spatial distribution of residuals, and distance to seed sources is likely to be unsuccessful for large portions of the landscape. Abundance and spatial arrangement of survivors and arrival patterns of propagules may be the pivotal factors determining how succession differs between intense disturbances of large and small extent.

Received 14 July 1998; accepted 18 September 1998