Savory - S uccession is the name given to the process of...

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S uccession is the name given to the process of change and devel- opment in communities of living organisms. Neither chaotic nor haphazard in any way, this process follows certain patterns and principles. The very word "life" of course implies change-birth, growth, repro- duction, death, decay. That taken for granted, however, we often fail to notice how change begets change, or how the succession of changes orders and defines the natural world. The basis of our own existence, and of the rest of the natural world as we know it, is the marvelous fact that succession, undefiled, tends to proceed toward more complex and more stable com- munities of living things. And in these living wholes the interplay of com- petition, interdependence, and adaptation never becomes static. It contin- ually embraces the possibility of yet further advance. I compare this upward tending characteristic of succession to a coiled spring, which, whenever pressed down by human intervention or natural catastrophe, will, by its nature, rebound as soon as the pressure is taken away. Thus grass reclaims old battlefields. Jungle climbs the slopes of dead volcanoes. And weeds invade fallow ground. All management of land (watersheds or cropland) by definition affects succession. However, the full ramifications of the process in any given case remain so complex as to lie beyond the power of any science. In the words of American soil scientist Michael Crofoot, "Ecological processes are not only more complex than we think, they are more complex than we can ever think." On the other hand, our general understanding of succession has finally developed to the point where we can solve once baffling riddles. The concept of succession entered the vocabulary of science through 73
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74 HOLISTIC RESOURCE MANAGEMENT the work of plant ecologists who observed that disturbed areas revegetated in successional stages-e.g., from bare ground to algae/lichen/moss com- munities, to grasslands, brushlands, and forest. Later insight took account of the fact that plants cannot exist in isolation, and thus we now think of succession in terms of entire communities. When I attended university in the mid-'50s, we studied succession strictly in terms of animal communities or plant communities. The separate disciplines of zoology and botany had successfully divorced the two obvious partners in the process. Soils were barely considered other than as a physical base. We now know that the successional process includes all animals-from the most simple virus or unicellular organism to elephant and human. And it includes all plants-from the simplest fungus to the mightiest tree. It also includes the microscopic world within our soils where a complex web of life dwells among decomposing particles of rock, sand, clay, and "dead organic material. Many complex and mutually dependent relationships exist among the various organisms to the extent that one cannot live without the other. And yet we know very little about them. We have no idea where one-third
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Savory - S uccession is the name given to the process of...

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