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Implications of Modern Successional Theory for Habitat Typing: A Review

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The habitat type classification system (HTCS) is widely used in the western United States and has recently been applied in the Lake States. This classification system is based on three premises, two of which are embodied in the Clementsian theory of succession. These premises are (1) the climatic or potential climax is the same for all sites that have similar growing environments within a region, (2)the climax stage of succession reflects the inherent productivity of a site better than any other stage, and (3) after disturbance, the understory stabilizes more quickly than, and independent of, the overstory. The current understanding of succession, disturbance, and interactions between overstory and understory was reviewed and showed that the three premises on which HTCSs are based cannot be accepted a priori as widely applicable. In particular, it was concluded that (1) most sites will never support a climax stage (sensu Clements); (2) disturbances, past land use, and stochastic events can lead to multiple pathways on a single "type" of site; and (3) the overstory often exerts a significant effect on the understory. Thus, a land classification system that relies solely or heavily on vegetation, such as the HTCS, should be based on a new theoretical foundation and incorporate the known variation and stochasticity of vegetation dynamics. This means a new standard and additional analyses must be incorporated during the development of HTCS's so that the systems are more accurate, widely applicable and as useful as possible. For. Sci. 42(1):67-75.

Keywords: Disturbance; overstory and understory interactions; stochastic events

Document Type: Journal Article

Affiliations: College of Natural Resources, University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, WI 54481

Publication date: February 1, 1996

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