, Volume 110, Issue 2, pp 115–147

Understanding ecological community succession: Causal models and theories, a review

  • L. J. McCook


Critical review of explanations for patterns of natural succession suggests a strong, common basis for theoretical understanding, but also suggests that several well known models are incomplete as explanations of succession. A universal, general cause for succession is unlikely, since numerous aspects of historical and environmental circumstances will impinge on the process in a unique manner. However, after disturbance, occupation of a site by any species causes changes in the conditions at the site. Sorting of species may result, since different species are adapted to different regions of environmental gradients. Such sorting can generate several patterns of species abundance in time, but commonly results in sequential replacements of species adapted to the varying conditions. This may be due to constraints on species' strategies, or life history traits, placed by the limited resources available to the organism. These constraints often result in inverse correlation between traits which confer success during early and late stages of succession. Facilitatory or inhibitory effects of species on each other are best understood in terms of these life history interactions, perhaps as restrictions on, or as moderation of, these processes.

Strong support for the importance of correlations in life history traits stems from comparisons of simulated succession with and without these correlations. These simulations are reviewed in some detail, and followed by brief reviews of other prominent models for succession. Several aspects of the confusion and controversies in the successional literature are then discussed, with a view to a more optimistic synthesis and direction for successional ecology.


Succession Inhibition Facilitation Life history Constraints Autogenic 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1994

Authors and Affiliations

  • L. J. McCook
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of BiologyDalhousie UniversityHalifaxCanada
  2. 2.Australian Institute of Marine ScienceTownsville, M.C.Australia

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