Ecological succession refers to a more-or-less predictable and orderly change in the composition or structure of an ecological community. Facilitation is one of the mechanisms by which succession takes place. It occurs when plant establishment is favored or facilitated by previously established plant communities that ameliorate environmental extremes. Physical factors in dune environments produce a very harsh environment where few plants can survive. Several studies show that facilitation takes place in the early stages of colonization and succession in coastal dunes. As succession proceeds, pioneer species will tend to be replaced by more competitive species, the abiotic environment will become less harsh, and biotic interactions such as competition and predation will be more common.
Dune succession is comprised of a pioneer (also called yellow dunes, associated with the most seaward dunes that are still receiving a significant input of wind-blown sand), intermediate, and mature stages (gray dunes or inland dunes with little or no sand, a high humus content, and where soil development has occurred). The rate of succession varies with the harshness of the environment. This is related to the abiotic factors mentioned and the vegetation stock. Detailed studies have been undertaken in the Lake Michigan dunes, a salt-free system, in the coastal dunes of Newborough Warren, several sites in Holland, and La Mancha, among others.
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