The Physical Environment
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Biogeography of the Earth

Plant Succession

fireweedFigure 12.10 Fireweed reestablishing on the devastated slopes of Mt. St. Helens. (Courtesy USGS CVO Click image to enlarge)

Natural vegetation of a particular location evolves in a sequence of steps involving different plant communities. The evolutionary process is known as plant succession. Plant succession usually begins with a fairly simple community known as a pioneer community. The pioneer community, and each successive community alters the environment in such a way to permit new communities to occupy a site. These alterations of the environment include changes in site microclimate and soil conditions.

A climax community is the result of a long period of plant succession. Climax communities usually exhibit a good deal of species diversity and thus are relatively stable systems. Disturbance renews a successional sequence. Plant succession was renewed after the explosion of Mt. St. Helens with the subsequent disruption of biotic communities that inhabited the region. Human disturbance related to tropical deforestation has renewed the successional sequence of plant communities in the tropical rain forest.


Video: Watch "Climax Communities Are Largely Stable"
Courtesy of Great Pacific Media

Assess you basic understanding of the preceding material by "Looking Back at the Ecology of Vegetation" or skip and continue reading.


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For Citation: Ritter, Michael E. The Physical Environment: an Introduction to Physical Geography.
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