The Botanical Review

, Volume 53, Issue 3, pp 335–371 | Cite as

Models, mechanisms and pathways of succession

  • S. T. A. Pickett
  • S. L. Collins
  • J. J. Armesto


The study of succession has been hampered by the lack of a general theory. This is illustrated by confusion over basic concepts and inadequacy of certain models. This review clarifies the basic ideas of pathway, mechanism, and model in succession. Second, in order to prevent inappropriate narrowness in successional studies, we analyze the mechanistic adequacy of the most widely cited models of succession, those of Connell and Slatyer. This analysis shows that models involving a single pathway or a dominant mechanism cannot be treated as alternative, testable hypotheses. Our review shows much more mechanistic richness than allowed by these widely cited models of succession. Classification of the mechanisms of specific replacement, called for by existing models, is problematic and less valuable than the search for the actual mechanisms of particular seres. For example, the “tolerance” mechanism of succession has at least two contrasting meanings and is unlikely to be disentangled from the “inhibition” mechanism in field experiments. However, the understanding of particular species replacements through experiment and knowledge of the conditions of a particular sere and species life histories is a reasonable and desirable goal. Finally, we suggest the need for a broad mechanistic concept of succession. Thus, based on classical causes of succession that have survived recent scrutiny, we erect a framework of successional mechanisms. This framework aims at comprehensiveness, and specific mechanisms are nested within more general causes. As a result of its breadth and hierarchical structure, the framework performs two important functions: First, it provides a context for studies at specific sites and, second, is a scheme for formulating general and testable hypotheses. The review of specific successional mechanisms and the general mechanistic framework can together guide future work on succession, and may foment the development of a broad theory.


Botanical Review Tree Seedling Natural Disturbance Successional Species Forest Succession 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


La ausencia de una teoría general sobre la sucesión ecológica obstaculiza el logro de un mayor conocimiento en la materia, crea confusión en torno a los conceptos más fundamentales de la disciplina, y fomenta el diseño de modelos inadecuados. Esta crítica tiene como meta el aclarar conceptos fundamentales acerca de la trayectoria, el mecanismo, y el modelo de la sucesión ecológica. En segundo lugar, intenta analizar la vtilidad mecánica de los modelos de la sucesión ecológica mas citados tales como el de Connell y Slatyer. Se señala por qué aquellos modelos con una trayectoria única o con un mecanismo dominante no deben considerarse como hipótesis válidas por probar. Por otra parte, se señala también la existencia de una riqueza mecánica que va mas allá de lo admitido por los modelos más citados. La clasificación de los mecanismos de reemplazo esbozados en los modelos actuales causa problemas y tienen poca utilidad. El mecanismo de tolerancia durante la sucesión ecológica, por ejemplo, tiene por lo menos dos significados contrastantes, y muchas veces resulta difícil distinguir en pruebas de campo entre un mecanismo de inhibición y un mecanismo de tolerancia. Un mejor conocimiento del reemplazo de una especie—mediante la experimentatión, conocimiento de las condiciones conducentes a la sucesión ecológica y del largo de vida de la especie—no obstante, sigue siendo una meta rezonable y legítima. Se subraya la necesidad de un concepto mecánico de la sucesión ecológica más abarcador y se propone un marco de referencia para los mecanismos de la sucesión ecológica que toma en cuenta las causas clásicas de la sucesión ecológica más escudriñadas. Este marco de referencia desempeña dos functiones importantes: provee una estructura para el estudio de lugares especificos, y provee un esquema para la formulación de hipótesis generales por probar. Esta critica tiene también como meta el servir como guia para futuros trabajos en la disciplina que fomenten el diseño de teorías generales de la sucesión ecológica.


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Copyright information

© The New York Botanical Garden 1987

Authors and Affiliations

  • S. T. A. Pickett
    • 1
  • S. L. Collins
    • 2
  • J. J. Armesto
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Biological Sciences, Bureau of Biological ResearchRutgers UniversityNew Brunswick
  2. 2.Division of Pinelands Research, Center for Coastal and Environmental StudiesRutgers UniversityNew Brunswick
  3. 3.Department of Biological SciencesRutgers UniversityNew Brunswick

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