Quantifying and documenting succession has been a challenge to ecologists for many years. A variety of measures have been generated but do not seem to have been widely adopted. We propose the use of an intuitive and quantifiable measure that is amenable to both model building and hypothesis testing, and apply the method to a long-term, ongoing succession project in southeastern Ontario. We compare our measure with turnover rate (Diamond 1969) and lambda (Shugart and Hett 1973). We found that although these measures can determine when change within the community is occurring, the nature of this change and the resultant composition of the community is not readily gleaned from the measure. Our measure, by grouping plants as either ‘early’ or ‘late’, allows the relative composition of the community to be understood with a single number. The benefit of using an aggregate measure such as ours, is that a variety of questions can be examined, such as ‘when will a community revert to its original composition following fire?’ As an example, we utilized our measure on a post-fire succession data set from northern Montana. The results estimate that sites will take anywhere from 3 to 100 years to return to their pre-fire composition, based on current environmental conditions.
Anand, M. 2000. The fundamentals of vegetation change: complexity rules. Acta Biotheoretica 48: 1–14.
Anand, M. and G.W. Heil. 2000. Analysis of a recovery process: Dwingelose Heide revisited. Community Ecology 1: 65–72.
Anand, M. and L. Orloci. 1997. Chaotic dynamics in a multispecies community. Ecological and Environmental Statistics 4: 337–344.
Armstrong, H. and D. Bullock. 2003. Stock grazing in woodland -Part 1. Biotype 24:2–5.
Bach, C.E. 1994. Effects of a specialist herbivore (Altica subplicata) on Salix cordata and sand dune succession. Ecological Monographs 64: 423–445.
Blatt, S.E., A.A. Crowder and R. Harmsen. (in press) Patterns of secondary succession in old-field communities in southeastern Ontario. Plant Ecology.
Blatt, S.E., J.A. Janmaat and R. Harmsen. 2001. Modelling succession to include an herbivore effect. Ecological Modelling 139:123–136.
Brown, V.K., M. Jepsen, M. and C.W.D. Gibson. 1988. Insect her bivory: effects on early old-field succession demonstrated by chemical exclusion methods. Oikos 52:293–302.
Clements, F. E. 1916. Plant succession: an analysis of the development of vegetation. Technical Report Publication 242, Carnegie Institute of Washington.
Connell, J. R. and R.O. Slatyer. 1977. Mechanisms of succession in natural communities and their role in community stability and organization. American Naturalist 111:1119–1144.
Crowder, A.A. 1986. The vegetation of the Kingston region. Bluebill 33:37–40. 45.
Crowder, A. and R. Harmsen. 1998. Notes on forest succession in old fields in Southeastern Ontario: the woody species. Canadian Field Naturalist 112:410–418.
Diamond, J.M. 1969. Avifaunal equilibria and species turnover rates on the Channel Islands of California. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science 64: 57–63.
Fink, A., J. Kosecoff, M. Chassin and R. H. Brook. 1984. Consensus methods: characteristics and guidelines for use. Amer. J. Public Health 14:979–983.
Frye, R.J. 1978. Structural dynamics of early old-field succession on the New Jersey Piedmont: a comparative approach. Ph.D. Thesis, Rutgers University.
Geomatics-International. 1995. Management option for old-field sites in southern Ontario. Guidelines and literature review. Technical Report TR-009, Southern Region Science and Technology Transfer Unit.
Glowacinski, Z. and O. Järvinen. 1975. Rate of secondary succession in forest bird communities. Omis Scandinavica 6: 33–40.
Grosshans, R.E. and N.C. Kenkel. 1997. Dynamics of emergent vegetation along natural gradients of water depth and salinity in a prairie marsh: delayed influences of competition. UFS (Delta Marsh) Annual Report 32: 83–93.
Ihaka, R. and R. Gentleman. 1996. R - A language for data analysis and graphics. Journal of Computational and Graphical Statistics 5:299–314.
Jassby, A. D. and C. R. Goldman. 1974. A quantitative measure of succession rate and its application to the phytoplankton of lakes. American Naturalist 108: 688–693.
Leps, J. 1987. Vegetation dynamics in early old field succession: a quantitative approach. Vegetatio 72:95–102.
Margalef, R. 1968. Perspectives in Ecological Theory. University of Chicago Press, Illinois, USA.
McBrien, H., R. Harmsen and A. Crowder. 1983. A case of insect grazing affecting plant succession. Ecology 65:1035–1039.
Monte, J.A. 1973. The successional convergence of vegetation from grassland and bare soil on the Piedmont of New Jersey. William L. Hutcheson Memorial Forest Bulletin 3: 3–13.
Morton, J.K. and J. M. Venn. 1990. A checklist of the flora of Ontario: Vascular plants. University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario.
Myster, R.W. and S. T A. Pickett. 1994. A comparison of rate of succession over 18 years in 10 contrasting old fields. Ecology 75: 387–392.
Odum, E. 1969. The strategy of ecosystem development. Science 164:262–270.
Phillips, E.A. 1959. Methods of Vegetation Study. Holt, Rinehart and Winston, New York, New York.
Pickett, S.T.A. 1982. Population patterns through twenty years of old-field succession. Vegetatio 49:45–59.
Pickett, S.T.A. 1989. Space-for-time substitution as an alternative to long-term studies. In: E. Likens (ed.), Long-term Studies in Ecology: Approaches and Alternatives. Springer, New York, pp. 110–135.
Scott, D., J.S. Robertson and W.J. Archie. 1990. Plant dynamics of New Zealand tussock grassland infested with Hieracium pilosella 11. Transition matrices of vegetation changes. Journal of Applied Ecology 27: 235–241.
Shugart, H.H. and J.M. Hett. 1973. Succession: similarities of species turnover rates. Science 180: 1379–1380.
Smartt, P.F.M., S.E. Meacock and J.M. Lambert. 1974. Investigations into the properties of quantitative vegetational data: I. Pilot study. Journal of Ecology 62: 735–759.
Stickney, P.F. and R.B. Campbell, Jr. 2000. Data Base for Early Post-fire Succession in Northern Rocky Mountain Forests. General Technical Report RMRS-GTR-61-CD. United States Department of Agriculture - Forest Service - RockyMountain Research Station.
Tansley, A.G. 1935. The use and abuse of vegetational concepts and terms. Ecology 16: 284–307.
Thorhallsdottir, T.E. 1990. The dynamics of a grassland community: A simultaneous investigation of spatial and temporal heterogeneity at various scales. Journal of Ecology 78: 884–908.
Watkins, A.J. and J.B. Wilson. 1994. Plant community struture, and its relation to the vertical complexity of communities: dominance/diversity and spatial rank consistency. Oikos 70: 91–98.
Wildi, O. and M. Schütz. 2000. Reconstruction of a long-term recovery process from pasture to forest. Community Ecology 1: 25–32.
Zar, J.H. 1984. Biostatistical Analysis. (2nd edition.) Prentice-Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey.
The authors would like to thank the numerous students who assisted in the collection of the data set and A. Crowder and L. Aarssen for consultation regarding the ‘early’ species. Insightful and helpful comments were received from M. Anand and anonymous reviewers who criticised earlier drafts of this manuscript.
About this article
Cite this article
Blatt, S.E., Janmaat, J.A. & Harmsen, R. Quantifying secondary succession: a method for all sites?. COMMUNITY ECOLOGY 4, 141–156 (2003). https://doi.org/10.1556/ComEc.4.2003.2.3
- Old-field community
- Post-fire succession
- Secondary succession
- Succession ratio
- Turnover rate