Community as a Superorganism

One of the consequences of considering a community to be structured has been the notion that the set of species making up the community were tightly interacting and coevolving. Plant ecologists had identified numerous different types of associations of various species of plants. Some of these associations, the communities, came to be considered as a completely integrated unit - a kind of superorganism.

In its most extreme form, the description of communities began to prevail that coexisting species occurred together because they have similar needs for resources and similar responses to environmental stresses. The community developed because of deterministic pathways of succession, leading to a stable climax. The analogy was that a community develops by processes like ontogenetic development of an individual animal or plant. It is predetermined from conception, that is, from the early establishment of species in the habitat in which the community develops. Interactions affecting each component species are evolved responses to the presence, abundances, and activities of the other species in the community. Such interactions lead to homeostatic development of an equilibrium in the climax community and therefore to predictable patterns of structure.

Another property of superorganismic communities is that wherever they come into contact with each other, there is only very limited possibility of overlap. Thus, where two plant communities, for example, a forest and an open grassland, exist side by side, their boundary is a fairly narrow ecotone. Sometimes, ecotones contain species not found in either adjacent community, but there cannot be broad existence of mixtures of species from the two communities because the species are closely adapted to the community where they 'belong'. Species from one community should therefore be unable to thrive in the absence of some members of that community or in the presence of species that do not belong with them.

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