You are here

The effects of disturbance and succession on wildlife habitat and animal communities [Chapter 11]

Posted date: April 21, 2015
Publication Year: 
2015
Publication Series: 
Book Chapter
Source: In: Morrison, M. L.; Mathewson, H. A., editors. Wildlife Habitat Conservation: Concepts, Challenges, and Solutions. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 143-156.

Abstract

This chapter discusses the study of disturbance and succession as they relate to wildlife. As such, the discussion is confined to those disturbance processes that change the physical attributes of habitat, leading to a postdisturbance trajectory. However, even with this narrowing of the scope of disturbances discussed, there remain formidable obstacles prior to any coherent discussion of disturbance. The first, and most fundamental, is definitional: what constitutes disturbance and succession, and what is habitat? The concepts of disturbance, habitat, and succession are highly scale-dependent; disturbances at one scale become part of continuous processes at a larger scale, and ideas associated with succession require assumptions of constancy, which become highly problematic as spatiotemporal scales increase. Literature on the effects of disturbance and succession on wildlife, however, focuses on a narrow range of spatial scales, primarily occurs within a narrow temporal window immediately following disturbance, and seldom includes interactions between areas within the disturbed patch and the landscape that surrounds it. While these largely descriptive studies undoubtedly have great local value, more general information about the relationships between organisms and environments shaped by disturbance and succession is remarkably limited. Multiple small-scale descriptive studies of the immediate postdisturbance environment do not appear to coherently aggregate into larger understandings of the effects of disturbance and succession on wildlife. Context is important: the conditions at the time of the disturbance, in adjacent undisturbed patches, and within the broader landscape all affect both the postdisturbance wildlife community and, more importantly, the trajectory of the postdisturbance community. Even for well-studied species, coherent understandings of their relationships to disturbance across time and space are therefore often vague. Commonly, we look at successional changes in habitat quality by using spatial samples of different ages as if they were a temporal series, which implies spatiotemporal constancy in successional dynamics. This assumption has served wildlife research well, but in the face of directional climate change and the nearly continuous addition of exotic species, this approach is becoming increasingly untenable. We need to embrace the idea that postdisturbance succession is increasingly unlikely to produce communities similar to those that the disturbance altered: short-term successional patterns are likely to be influenced by the large and dynamic pool of exotic plants and animals and longer-term succession by directional climate change.

Citation

McKelvey, Kevin S. 2015. The effects of disturbance and succession on wildlife habitat and animal communities [Chapter 11]. In: Morrison, M. L.; Mathewson, H. A., editors. Wildlife Habitat Conservation: Concepts, Challenges, and Solutions. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 143-156.