Our Earth renews itself after a disaster, natural or otherwise, and throws seeds to the wind and creatures. What organisms survive it will likely produce progeny stronger and smarter to conditions that unfold through tragedy – given sufficient time. Weeds proliferate and repopulate areas ravaged bare, as can be shown by our versatile dandelion.
Succession is a wonderful solution to disaster. It allows for change, it allows for regrowth. It encourages strength and will. Our little dandelion is one to join in on populating a newly formed ecosystem. Why? Read on.
A repercussion of living life is the alteration of the specie’s own habitat. What may have been optimal for the first species to inhabit the original environment, destruction and renewal makes way for optimal conditions for another set of species, hence the process of succession. These new species start a process of struggle for dominance, competing with any species that was present and survived the massive change to the environment.
Colonizers in order if disaster is horrific and widespread:
- Moss and lichen, acid from the lichen break down rock to soil. Damage and decay of lichen create humus. This supports other mosses.
- After enough soil and humus are replaced, grasses populate.
- Then, low-bush blueberry and huckleberries. Shrubby plants move in.
- Conditions then allow birch and aspen.
- White pine are the replacement plants. Maples and beech follow. (source)
I added this above to note that it takes a really long time to see primary succession occur. In the case of typical bare soil, much less succession occurs. Absence of trees and creation of field, allow the grass to become populated by low-growing, herbaceous species like plantains, golden rods, asters, and introduced species like the dandelion.
Plants adapted to the sunny conditions and disturbed soil (our dandelion, just one of many) will quickly invade the area when land is bare and barren. They are not suited to grassy field and meadows because of their size. They could not reach the sun they need surrounded by plants of greater stature. See one lone dandelion below growing as tall as it can?
Succession can be also caused by volcanoes, glaciers, storms, sand dunes, agriculture, or fire. Even new gardens lay way for succession.
Succession involves the whole environmental community, not just the plants though. Change in the plant species present in an area determines changes in animal species, because each plant species will have an associated animal species which feeds on it. Herbivore species dictate which particular carnivores join the new habitat. Even habitat minor change can create major results. Just substituting one plant species for another, brings in a whole host of new insect residents.
An external event, even a new garden, affects the fundamental nature of the community by re-making and unsettling the previously stabilized ecosystem which was teeming with life. This newly disturbed land will immediately begin the process of ecological succession to establish an abundance of life again.
Oddly, native and exotic plant species behave similarly during succession. They exhibit similar dynamics in rate of rapidity of growth and frequency. (source)
On a large-scale, we often act like nature in effecting disaster. If nature repairs, we come in to moderate, but most often beat nature to the punch in remediation of succession, like in natural disasters. Sometimes, we set in motion that which leads to additional disaster for one being or another in the process.
Was our species ever one to work peaceably with the environment? That is explored in the last in the series of Dandelion Days.
Considering the statement, “The ‘engine’ of succession, the cause of ecosystem change, is the impact of established species have upon their own environments.” (source)
So how does succession affect humans? It is as simple as looking to your own garden. So we shall in the next post in the five-part series.
If you missed the first two posts in this five-part series, please take a look: