Approaches To Describing Communities

Although the community is understood to include all organisms at a site, for practical reasons most studies have addressed subsets of this community. Hence, the literature on communities includes references to the plant community, the arthropod community, the bird community, consumer communities associated with different plant species, tritrophic interactions, etc. Insects have been addressed to varying degrees in studies of communities, although insects represent the majority of species in terrestrial and freshwater aquatic communities (Table 9.1) and clearly are integral to community structure and dynamics (e.g., as pollinators or herbivores of vegetation, as resources for vertebrates, etc.). Description of particular subsets of the community involves further differentiation in approaches.

Three general approaches to describing community structure can be identified: species diversity, species interactions, and functional organization. Although the "ideal" approach is a topic of intense ecological debate (e.g., Polis 1991a), each approach provides useful information, and the choice largely reflects objectives and practical considerations. Where possible, combining approaches can yield a broader description of the community.

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