Community Ecology: An Introduction


Communities are assemblages of individuals of different species living and interacting together in a contiguous environment. Community ecology studies how communities are structured and how their structure changes in time and space, spontaneously or as a result of natural and human‐induced events.

Keywords: community; diversity; emergent properties; biocomplexity

Figure 1.

Classification of the Flooding Pampa grasslands, showing how 11 community types coalesce into 5 distinct vegetation patterns at landscape and regional scales (redrawn from Perelman et al., 2001). The vegetation types identified are I, mesophytic meadows; II, humid mesophytic meadows; III, humid prairies; IV, halophytic steppes; V, humid halophytic steppes.

Figure 2.

Detrended correspondence analysis of alluvial flood plains plant communities based on their species composition (redrawn from Mouw and Alaback, 2003). The first axis explains 80% of the total variation in species along a gradient from open, dry sites to moist sites within a closed canopy.

Figure 3.

An example of the commonly found shape of species–area relationship in nature (redrawn from Perelman et al., 2001). Data show the number of species in relation to patch size using the same study as Figure . Different symbols refer to four different pilot areas. Boundary lines show the highest and lowest richness found for each area.

Figure 4.

Total species richness as a function of the proportion of pioneer species in the same sampling quadrat (redrawn from Molino and Sabatier, 2001).


Further Reading

Allen TFH and Starr TB (1982) Hierarchy: Perspectives for Ecological Complexity. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Begon M, Harper JL and Townsend CR (1996) Ecology: Individuals, Populations and Communities 3rd edn. Oxford: Blackwell Science.

Clements FE (1916) Plant Succession: Analysis of the Development of Vegetation. Carnergie Institute of Washington Publication, No 242. Washington DC.

Connell JH (1978) Diversity in tropical rain forests and coral reefs. Science 199: 1302–1310.

Gause G (1934) The Struggle for Existence. Baltimore: Williams & Wilkins.

Grossman DH, Faber‐Langendoen D and Weakley AS et al. (1998) International Classification of Ecological Communities: Terrestrial Vegetation of the United States, vol. I: The National Vegetation Classification System: Development, Status, and Applications. Arlington, VA: The Nature Conservancy.

Huston MA (1994) Biological Diversity, The Coexistence of Species on Changing Landscapes. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

MacArthur RH and Wilson EO (1967) The Theory of Island Biogeography. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Molino JF and Sabatier D (2001) Tree diversity in tropical rain forests: a validation of the intermediate disturbance hypothesis. Science 294: 1702–1704.

Mouw JEB and Alaback PB (2003) Putting floodplain hyperdiversity in a regional context: an assessment of terrestrial floodplain connectivity in a montane environment. Journal of Biogeography 30: 87–103.

O'Neill RV, DeAngelis DL, Waide JB and Allen TFH (1986) A Hierarchical Concept of Ecosystems. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Perelman SB, Leòn RJC and Oesterheld M (2001) Cross‐scale vegetation patterns of Flooding Pampa grasslands. Journal of Ecology 89: 562–577.

Whittaker RH (1967) Gradient analysis of vegetation. Biological Reviews 42: 207–264.

Whittaker RH (1999) Island Biogeography: Ecology, Evolution and Conservation. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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Villa, Ferdinando, and Ceroni, Marta(May 2005) Community Ecology: An Introduction. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1038/npg.els.0003174]