Papers in the Biological Sciences


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Prairie Naturalist (March 1983) 13(1): 9-15.


Copyright 1983, North Dakota Natural Science Society. Used by permission.


Long held to be reasonably well understood, the process of ecological succession has recently come under attack. The predictability of successional changes has been doubted (Walker 1970), the mechanism of species replacement has been questioned (Connell and Slatyer 1977), and the reality of steady-state (climax) challenged (Botkin and Sobel 1975, Connell and Slatyer 1977, Connell 1978). In particular, several communities are presently recognized as having "cyclic succession" (Ricklefs 1973), in which the process is continually repeating. Such communities include heaths (Watt 1947), prairie pot-hole marshes (Vander Valk and Davis 1978), spruce-fir forests (Sprugel 1976, Sprugel and Bormann 1981), and intertidal communities (Levin and Paine 1974).

Secondary succession on abandoned fields in North American prairies has received little recent attention (but see Clements 1916, Shantz 1917, Booth 1941, Weaver 1954, Roux and Warren 1963, Rice 1974). A typical progression from annual weeds through a series of grass communities to the original, stable, composition is expected to require a minimum of 30 years (Rice 1974, Glenn-Lewin 1980).

In this study, we compare the progress of succession in two different grassland communities in Nebraska to each other and to the proposed models.