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,
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.
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