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Concept: Ecological succession


BACKGROUND: Traditional habitat knowledge is an understudied part of traditional knowledge. Though the number of studies increased world-wide in the last decade, this knowledge is still rarely studied in Europe. We document the habitat vocabulary used by Csango people, and determine features they used to name and describe these categories.Study area and methods: Csango people live in Gyimes (Carpathians, Romania). The area is dominated by coniferous forests, hay meadows and pastures. Animal husbandry is the main source of living. Data on the knowledge of habitat preference of 135 salient wild plant species were collected (2908 records, 44 interviewees). Data collected indoors were counterchecked during outdoor interviews and participatory field work. RESULTS: Csangos used a rich and sophisticated vocabulary to name and describe habitat categories. They distinguished altogether at least 142–148 habitat types, and named them by 242 habitat terms. We argue that the method applied and the questions asked (‘what kind of place does species X like?’) helped the often implicit knowledge of habitats to be verbalized more efficiently than usual in an interview. Habitat names were highly lexicalized and most of them were widely shared. The main features were biotic or abiotic, like land-use, dominant plant species, vegetation structure, successional stage, disturbance, soil characteristics, hydrological, and geomorphological features. Csangos often used indicator species (28, mainly herbaceous taxa) in describing habitats of species. To prevent reduction in the quantity and/or quality of hay, unnecessary disturbance of grasslands was avoided by the Csangos. This could explain the high number of habitats (35) distinguished dominantly by the type and severity of disturbance. Based on the spatial scale and topological inclusiveness of habitat categories we distinguished macro-, meso-, and microhabitats. CONCLUSIONS: Csango habitat categories were not organized into a single hierarchy, and the partitioning was multidimensional. Multidimensional description of habitats, made the nuanced characterization of plant species' habitats possible by providing innumerable possibilities to combine the most salient habitat features. We conclude that multidimensionality of landscape partitioning and the number of dimensions applied in a landscape seem to depend on the number of key habitat gradients in the given landscape.

Concepts: Dimension, Space, Domination, Vegetation, Livestock, Cartesian coordinate system, Ecological succession, Habitat fragmentation


This research investigated how the strength of vegetation-soil-topography couplings varied along a gradient of biogeomorphic succession in two distinct fluvial systems: a forested river floodplain and a coastal salt marsh creek. The strength of couplings was quantified as tri-variance, which was calculated by correlating three singular axes, one each extracted using three-block partial least squares from vegetation, soil, and topography data blocks. Within each system, tri-variance was examined at low-, mid-, and high-elevation sites, which represented early-, intermediate-, and late-successional phases, respectively, and corresponded to differences in ongoing disturbance frequency and intensity. Both systems exhibited clearly increasing tri-variance from the early- to late-successional stages. The lowest-lying sites underwent frequent and intense hydrogeomorphic forcings that dynamically reworked soil substrates, restructured surface landforms, and controlled the colonization of plant species. Such conditions led vegetation, soil, and topography to show discrete, stochastic, and individualistic behaviors over space and time, resulting in a loose coupling among the three ecosystem components. In the highest-elevation sites, in contrast, disturbances that might disrupt the existing biotic-abiotic relationships were less common. Hence, ecological succession, soil-forming processes, and landform evolution occurred in tight conjunction with one another over a prolonged period, thereby strengthening couplings among them; namely, the three behaved in unity over space and time. We propose that the recurrence interval of physical disturbance is important to-and potentially serves as an indicator of-the intensity and mechanisms of vegetation-soil-topography feedbacks in fluvial biogeomorphic systems.

Concepts: Time, Ecology, Gradient, Ecosystem, Partial derivative, Ecological succession, Geomorphology, Landform


Conservation programs increasingly involve the reintroduction of animals which otherwise would not recolonize restored habitats. We assessed the long-term success of a project in which the Blue-winged grasshopper, Oedipoda caerulescens (L., 1758), was reintroduced to a nature reserve in Northwestern Switzerland, an alluvial gravel area where the species went extinct in the 1960s. In summer 1995, we released 110 individuals (50 females and 60 males) and 204 individuals (101 females and 103 males) into two restored gravel patches with sparse vegetation. We used a transect count technique to assess the population size of O. caerulescens in the years 1995-2004 and 2015-2016 and recorded the area occupied by the species. At both release sites, the populations persisted and increased significantly in size. Individuals that followed a newly created corridor established four new subpopulations. Seven years after reintroduction, O. caerulescens had reached a high abundance around the release sites and in the four colonized patches, indicating a successful project. At the same time, the dispersal corridor became increasingly overgrown by dense vegetation. Surveys 20 and 21 yr after introduction showed that the abundance of the Blue-winged grasshopper had strongly declined in the established subpopulations and moderately in the original release sites, owing to natural succession of the habitat and lack of disturbances, which reduced the area suitable for the species by 59%. Our study shows that reintroductions are unlikely to succeed without integration of long-term habitat management (in the present case maintenance of open ground).

Concepts: Population, Population ecology, Grasshopper, Locust, Ecological succession, Orthoptera, Acrididae, Acridoidea


The Intermediate Disturbance Hypothesis (IDH) is well-known in ecology providing an explanation for the role of disturbance in the coexistence of climax and colonist species. Here, we used the IDH as a framework to describe the role of forest disturbance in shaping the mosquito community structure, and to identify the ecological processes that increase the emergence of vector-borne disease. Mosquitoes were collected in central Panama at immature stages along linear transects in colonising, mixed and climax forest habitats, representing different levels of disturbance. Species were identified taxonomically and classified into functional categories (i.e., colonist, climax, disturbance-generalist, and rare). Using the Huisman-Olff-Fresco multi-model selection approach, IDH testing was done. We did not detect a unimodal relationship between species diversity and forest disturbance expected under the IDH; instead diversity peaked in old-growth forests. Habitat complexity and constraints are two mechanisms proposed to explain this alternative postulate. Moreover, colonist mosquito species were more likely to be involved in or capable of pathogen transmission than climax species. Vector species occurrence decreased notably in undisturbed forest settings. Old-growth forest conservation in tropical rainforests is therefore a highly-recommended solution for preventing new outbreaks of arboviral and parasitic diseases in anthropic environments.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Ecology, Mosquito, Tropics, Forest, Rainforest, Tropical rainforest, Ecological succession


Is active restoration the best approach to achieve ecological restoration success (the return to a reference condition, that is, old-growth forest) when compared to natural regeneration in tropical forests? Our meta-analysis of 133 studies demonstrated that natural regeneration surpasses active restoration in achieving tropical forest restoration success for all three biodiversity groups (plants, birds, and invertebrates) and five measures of vegetation structure (cover, density, litter, biomass, and height) tested. Restoration success for biodiversity and vegetation structure was 34 to 56% and 19 to 56% higher in natural regeneration than in active restoration systems, respectively, after controlling for key biotic and abiotic factors (forest cover, precipitation, time elapsed since restoration started, and past disturbance). Biodiversity responses were based primarily on ecological metrics of abundance and species richness (74%), both of which take far less time to achieve restoration success than similarity and composition. This finding challenges the widely held notion that natural forest regeneration has limited conservation value and that active restoration should be the default ecological restoration strategy. The proposition that active restoration achieves greater restoration success than natural regeneration may have arisen because previous comparisons lacked controls for biotic and abiotic factors; we also did not find any difference between active restoration and natural regeneration outcomes for vegetation structure when we did not control for these factors. Future policy priorities should align the identified patterns of biophysical and ecological conditions where each or both restoration approaches are more successful, cost-effective, and compatible with socioeconomic incentives for tropical forest restoration.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Ecology, Ecosystem, Forest, Tropical rainforest, Biome, Ecological succession, Old-growth forest


Climate change can influence ecosystems via both direct effects on individual organisms and indirect effects mediated by species interactions. However, we understand little about how these changes will ripple through ecosystems or whether there are particular ecological characteristics that might make ecosystems more susceptible-or more resistant-to warming. By combining in situ experimental warming with herbivore manipulations in a natural rocky intertidal community for over 16 months, we show that herbivory regulates the capacity of marine communities to resist warming. We found that limpet herbivores helped to preserve trophic and competitive interactions under experimental warming, dampening the impact of warming on overall community composition. The presence of limpets facilitated the survival of the main habitat modifier (barnacles) under warmer conditions, which, in turn, facilitated the presence of a consumer guild. When limpets were removed, environmental warming altered trophic, competitive, and facilitative interactions, with cascading impacts on community succession and stability. We conclude that conserving trophic structure and the integrity of interaction networks is vitally important as Earth continues to warm.

Concepts: Plant, Ecology, Animal, Herbivore, Intertidal zone, Ecological succession, Herbivory, Limpet


Ecosystem carbon carrying capacity (CCC) is determined by prevailing climate and natural disturbance regimes, conditions that are projected to change significantly. The interaction of changing climate and its effects on disturbance regimes is expected to affect forest regeneration and growth, which may diminish forest carbon © stocks and uptake. We modeled landscape C dynamics over 590 years along the latitudinal gradient of the U.S. Sierra Nevada Mountains under climate and area burned by large wildfires projected by late 21(st) century. We assumed climate and wildfire stabilize at late-21(st) century conditions (2090-2100) to facilitate analysis of lags between warming and changing CCC. We show that compared with historical (1980-2010) climate and wildfire conditions, projected scenarios would drive a significant decrease of up to 73% in mean total ecosystem carbon (TEC) by the end of the 590-year simulation. Tree regeneration failure due to intensified growing season dryness and increased area burned would substantially decrease forested area, transitioning the system from C sink to source. Our results demonstrate the potential for a lower CCC in the system due to extensive vegetation type conversion from forest to non-forest types, and suggest a decline in the contribution of Sierra Nevada forests to U.S. C sink.

Concepts: Ecosystem, Forest, California, Ecological succession, Yosemite National Park, Sierra Nevada, Yosemite Valley


Prior work shows western US forest wildfire activity increased abruptly in the mid-1980s. Large forest wildfires and areas burned in them have continued to increase over recent decades, with most of the increase in lightning-ignited fires. Northern US Rockies forests dominated early increases in wildfire activity, and still contributed 50% of the increase in large fires over the last decade. However, the percentage growth in wildfire activity in Pacific northwestern and southwestern US forests has rapidly increased over the last two decades. Wildfire numbers and burned area are also increasing in non-forest vegetation types. Wildfire activity appears strongly associated with warming and earlier spring snowmelt. Analysis of the drivers of forest wildfire sensitivity to changes in the timing of spring demonstrates that forests at elevations where the historical mean snow-free season ranged between two and four months, with relatively high cumulative warm-season actual evapotranspiration, have been most affected. Increases in large wildfires associated with earlier spring snowmelt scale exponentially with changes in moisture deficit, and moisture deficit changes can explain most of the spatial variability in forest wildfire regime response to the timing of spring.This article is part of the themed issue ‘The interaction of fire and mankind’.

Concepts: Hydrology, Vegetation, Arson, Ecological succession, Wildfire, Slash and burn, Controlled burn, Conflagration


Disturbances are natural features of ecosystems that promote variability in the community and ultimately maintain diversity. Although it is recognized that global change will affect environmental disturbance regimes, our understanding of the community dynamics governing ecosystem recovery and the maintenance of functional diversity in future scenarios is very limited. Here, we use one of the few ecosystems naturally exposed to future scenarios of environmental change to examine disturbance and recovery dynamics. We examine the recovery patterns of marine species from a physical disturbance across different acidification regimes caused by volcanic CO2 vents. Plots of shallow rocky reef were cleared of all species in areas of ambient, low, and extreme low pH that correspond to near-future and extreme scenarios for ocean acidification. Our results illustrate how acidification decreases the variability of communities, resulting in homogenization and reduced functional diversity at a landscape scale. Whereas the recovery trajectories in ambient pH were highly variable and resulted in a diverse range of assemblages, recovery was more predictable with acidification and consistently resulted in very similar algal-dominated assemblages. Furthermore, low pH zones had fewer signs of biological disturbance (primarily sea urchin grazing) and increased recovery rates of the dominant taxa (primarily fleshy algae). Together, our results highlight how environmental change can cause ecosystem simplification via environmentally mediated changes in community dynamics in the near future, with cascading impacts on functional diversity and ecosystem function.

Concepts: Carbon dioxide, Natural environment, Ecosystem, PH, Ocean, Carbonic acid, Ocean acidification, Ecological succession


European foredunes are almost exclusively colonised by Ammophila arenaria, and both the natural succession and the die-out of this plant have been linked to populations of plant-parasitic nematodes (PPN). The overarching aim of this study was to investigate top-down control processes of PPN in these natural ecosystems through comparative analyses of the diversity and dynamics of PPN and their microbial enemies. Our specific aims were, first, to identify and quantify PPN microbial enemies in European sand dunes; second, to assess their life history traits, their spatial and temporal variation in these ecosystems, and third, to evaluate their control potential of PPN populations. This was done by seasonal sampling of a range of sites and making observations on both the nematode and the microbial enemy communities in rhizosphere sand. Nine different nematode microbial enemies belonging to different functional groups were detected in European sand dunes. Their high diversity in these low productivity ecosystems could both result from or lead to the lack of dominance of a particular nematode genus. The distribution of microbial enemies was spatially and temporally variable, both among and within sampling sites. Obligate parasites, either with low host-specificity or having the ability to form an environmentally resistant propagule, are favoured in these ecosystems and are more frequent and abundant than facultative parasites. Three microbial enemies correlated, either positively or negatively, with PPN population size: Catenaria spp., Hirsutella rhossiliensis and Pasteuria penetrans. Microbial-enemy supported links in the food-web may be involved in the control of PPN populations through indirect effects. The endospore-forming P. penetrans was the most successful top-down control agent, and was implicated in the direct control of Meloidogyne spp. and indirect facilitation of Pratylenchus spp. Overall, our findings suggest strong and diverse top-down control effects on the nematode community in these natural ecosystems.

Concepts: Parasites, Nematode, Ecosystem, Beach, Sand, Ecological succession, Dune, Ammophila