Abstract. A general conceptual model of vegetation based on hierarchy theory is presented. The model emphasizes that prediction of vegetation requires consideration of both mechanisms of vegetation change and the constraints within which it occurs. The mechanisms of vegetation change are the responses to and effects upon their surroundings of individual plants. The most general constraints upon vegetation are aspects of the environment not affected by vegetation over successional time, and the pool of species within dispersal range. Examples of such environmental factors include macroclimate and soil parent material. In some cases, vegetation may alter important labile environmental factors such as soil nutrient and water availability. Some vegetation compositions appear to be resistant to changes in the general constraints. Due to both sources, there are multiple possible vegetation compositions given the same general constraints. Disturbance is defined as an abrupt change in the constraints on the vegetation resulting in a change in the vegetation's state or dynamics. Both the recognition of disturbance and the distinction between independent and labile environmental factors depend on the spatial and temporal scale of observation. For example, a particular wildfire at a given stand may be a disturbance, whereas at a larger scale of observation the same event may contribute to the wildfire regime, part of the constraints at that scale. Similarly, levels of soil organic matter may constrain vegetation over short time scales, due to influencing availability of water and nutrients. Over long time scales, the vegetation itself is a primary determinant of soil organic matter content. This model contains elements of both the initial, holistic theory of vegetation and recent, reductionistic approaches. It reiterates the need to considerboth mechanisms and constraints, stressed by contemporary and earlier workers. Hierarchy theory provides new insights concerning sufficient conditions for prediction, possible limits on predictability, and appropriate research strategy.
Journal of Vegetation Science – Wiley
Published: Oct 1, 1990
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