Plant Ecology

, Volume 157, Issue 1, pp 77-99

First online:

The disturbance and vegetation dynamics: a review and an alternative framework

  • Grażyna Ł askaAffiliated withThe Chair of Protection of Soil and Land Surface, Institute of Environmental Engineering and Agriculture, Bia- ł ystok Technical University

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Disturbances are common phenomena that occurs in nature and significantly affects the dynamics of vegetation and plant populations. This paper shows that despite considerable progress in the theory of disturbances, for different authors the notion of disturbance has different meanings. The differences follow from an alternative understanding of the term, assumption of the holistic or reductionistic concept of the study or different approaches to equilibrium and non-equilibrium in nature. Different theoretical and methodological assumptions taken when analysing vegetation changes under the effect of disturbances allow relative arbitrariness in the interpretation of results. However, not all biotic interactions and ecological processes taking place in plant communities can be identified as disturbances. The effects of disturbances should be described on the basis of an objective assessment of what is normal for the functioning and stabilisation of a community as well as what disturbs and disrupts this equilibrium. Moreover, assuming the equivalent treatment of ecological systems, the interaction of the disturbing factors should be related to a specific level of life organisation (an individual, population or community), which would permit unambiguous discernment of the disturbance effects and finally generalise its effects on different levels of the hierarchical structure of vegetation.

Ecological processes Equilibrium/non-equilibrium theory Hierarchical structure of vegetation Holistic or reductionistic approach Theory of disturbances