CHAPTER 6 - Species Interactions and Community Ecology

I. Central Case: Black and White, and Spread All Over: Zebra Mussels Invade the Great Lakes

A. The pollution-fouled waters of Lake Erie and the other Great Lakes shared by Canada and the United States became gradually cleaner in the years following the Clean Water Act of 1970.

B. Then the zebra mussel arrived, a native to western Asia and eastern Europe.

C. The zebra mussel= s larval stage is well adapted for long-distance dispersal, and it has encountered none of the predators, competitors, and parasites that evolved to limit its population growth in the Old World.

D. Zebra mussels can clog up water intake pipes, damage boat engines, degrade docks, foul fishing gear, and sink buoys that ships use for navigation.

E. Zebra mussels also have severe impacts on the ecological systems they invade.

II. Species Interactions

1. The most prominent interactions are competitive, predation, parasitism, herbivory, and mutualism.

A. Competition can occur when resources are limited.

1. Competitive interactions can take place among members of the same species (intraspecific competition), or among members of two or more different species (interspecific competition).

2. Competitive exclusion occurs when one species excludes the other from resource use entirely.

3. Competing species that live side by side at a certain ratio of population sizes may reach a stable equilibrium point-species coexistence.

4. Coexisting species that use the same resources tend to minimize competition by using only a portion of the total array of resources - their niche, or ecological role in the community - that they are capable of using.

a. The full niche of a species is called its fundamental niche.

b. An individual that plays only part of its role because of competition or other species interactions is said to be displaying a realized niche.

5. Over time, competing species may evolve to use slightly different resources or to use their shared resources in different ways; this is resource partitioning.


- 1 -

a. Because species limit their resource use, over time, character displacement may occur as they evolve physical characteristics that reflect their reliance on a particular portion of the resource.

B. Several types of interactions are exploitative.

1. Exploitation occurs when one member of an interaction exploits another for its own gain.

C. Predators kill and consume prey.

1. Predation is the process by which an individual of one species, a predator, hunts, captures, kills, and consumes an individual of another species, its prey.

2. Predation can sometimes drive population dynamics, causing cycles in population sizes.

3. Predation also has evolutionary ramifications - more adept predators will leave more and healthier offspring, leading to the evolution of adaptions that make them better hunters. The same selective pressure acts on prey species, who evolve defenses against being eaten.

D. Parasites exploit living hosts.

1. Parasitism is a relationship in which one organism, the parasite, depends on another, the host, for nourishment or some other benefit while simultaneously doing the host harm.

2. Many parasites live in close contact with their hosts, such as disease pathogens, tapeworms, ticks, and lamprey.

3. Other types of parasites are free-living and come into contact with their hosts only infrequently (e.g., nest parasites such as cuckoos and cowbirds).

4. Some parasites cause little harm, but others may kill their hosts.

5. Hosts and parasites can become locked in a duel of escalating adaptations called the evolutionary arms race.

E. Herbivores exploit plants.

1. Herbivory occurs when animals feed on the tissues of plants.

F. Mutualists help out another.

1. Mutualism is a relationship in which two or more species benefit from interaction with one another.

2. Many mutualistic relationships - like many parasitic relationships - occur between organisms that live in close physical contact; this is called symbiosis.

3. Free-living organisms such as bees and flowers also engage in mutualism in the process of pollination.

G. Some interactions have no effect on some participants.

1. Amensalism is a relationship in which one organism is harmed and the other is unaffected.

2. Commensalism occurs when one organism benefits and the other is unaffected.

- 2 -

III. Ecological Communities

A. Energy passes among tropic levels.

1. As organisms feed on one another, energy moves through the community, from one rank in the feeding hierarchy, or trophic level, to another.

2. Producers, or autotrophs (A self-feeders@ ), comprise the first trophic level.

a. Producers include terrestrial green plants, cyanobacteria, and algae, and all of them capture solar energy and use photosynthesis to produce sugars.

b. The chemosynthetic bacteria of hot springs and deep-sea hydrothermal vents use geothermal energy in a similar way to produce food.

3. Organisms that consume producers (e.g., deer and grasshoppers) are known as primary consumers. Most of them consume plants and are called herbivores.

4. The third level consists of secondary consumers, which prey on primary consumers. Predators that feed at higher trophic levels are known as tertiary consumers (e.g., hawks eat rodents that ate grasshoppers).

5. Secondary and tertiary consumers are carnivores because they eat animals.

6. Animals that eat both plant and animal food omnivores.

7. Detritivores and decomposers consume nonliving organic matter.

B. Energy, biomass, and numbers decrease at higher trophic levels.

1. At each trophic level, most of the energy that organisms use is lost through respiration.

2. The first trophic level (producers) contains a large amount of energy, while the second (primary consumers) contains less energy - only that amount gained from consuming producers.

3. The third trophic level (secondary consumers) contains still less energy, and higher trophic levels (tertiary consumers) contain the least.

4. A general rule of thumb is that each trophic level contains just 10% of the energy of the trophic level below it, although the actual proportions can vary greatly.

5. This pattern can be visualized as a pyramid, and generally also holds for the numbers of organisms at each trophic level, with fewer organisms existing at higher trophic levels than at lower trophic levels.

6. This same pyramid-like relationship also often holds true for biomass; the sheer number of prey relative to predators means that prey biomass will likely be greater overall than predator biomass.


- 3 -

C. Food webs show feeding relationships and energy flow.

1. A food web is a visual map of feeding relationships and energy flow, showing the many paths by which energy passes among organisms as they consume one another.

D. Some organisms play bigger roles in communities than others.

1. A keystone species is a species that has a particularly strong or far-reaching impact.

2. Large-bodied secondary or tertiary consumers are often considered keystone species.

3. Some species attain keystone species status not through what they eat, but by physically modifying the environment.

E. Communities respond to disturbance in different ways.

1. A community that resists change and remains stable despite disturbance is said to show resistance to the disturbance.

2. Alternatively, a community may show resilience, meaning that it changes in response to disturbance but later returns to its original state.

F. Succession follows severe disturbance.

1. If a disturbance is severe enough to eliminate all or most of the species in a community, the affected site will undergo a somewhat predictable series of changes that ecologists call succession.

a. Primary succession follows a disturbance so severe that no vegetation or soil life remains from the community that previously occupied the site. In primary succession, a biotic community is built essentially from scratch.

1) Pioneer species, such as lichens, are the first to arrive.

2) Lichens secrete acid, starting the process of soil formation.

3) New, larger organisms arrive, establish themselves, and pave the way for more new species, where eventually a climax community becomes established.

b. Secondary succession begins when a disturbance dramatically alters an existing community but does not destroy all living things or all organic matter in the soil.

2. At terrestrial sites, primary succession takes place after a bare expanse of rock, sand, or sediment becomes newly exposed. Species that arrive first and colonize the new substrate are referred to as pioneer species.

3. In the traditional view of succession, the transitions between stages of succession eventually lead to a climax community, which remains in place with little modification until some disturbance restarts succession.


- 4 -

4. Today, ecologists recognize that succession is far more variable and less predictable. Its stages blur into one another and vary from place to place, with certain stages sometimes being skipped entirely.

G. How cohesive are communities?

1. Frederick Clements promoted the view that communities are cohesive entities whose members remain associated over time and space.

2. Henry Gleason maintained that each species responds independently to its own limiting factors, and that species can join or leave communities without greatly altering their composition.

3. Today, ecologists side largely with Gleason, although they see validity in aspects of both ideas.

H. Invasive species pose new threats to community stability.

1. An invasive species is a non-native organism that arrives in a community from elsewhere, spreads, and becomes dominant, with the potential to substantially alter a community.

2. In case after case, managers are finding that controlling and eradicating invasive species are so difficult and expensive that preventive measures represent a much better investment.

I. Altered communities can be restored to their former condition.

1. Efforts to restore areas to a more pristine habitat are known as ecological restoration.

2. The practice of ecological restoration is informed by the science of restoration ecology, with research into the history of an area, as an understanding of its A presettlement@ condition.

IV. Earth= s Biomes

1. A biome is a major regional complex of similar communities - a large ecological unit recognized primarily by its dominant plant type and vegetation structure.

A. Biomes are grouping of communities that cover large geographic areas.

1. A biome depends on many abiotic factors, but is determined largely by climate - temperature and precipitation.

2. Scientists often use climate diagrams, or climatographs, to depict annual patterns and monthly averages of temperature and precipitation.

3. Each biome encompasses a variety of communities that share similarities (e.g., oak-hickory, beech-maple, and pine-oak forests are all temperature deciduous forests).

B. We can divide the world into roughly ten terrestrial biomes.

1. Temperate deciduous forest is found in eastern North America and is characteristic by broadleaf trees that lose their leaves in the fall.

- 5 -

2. Moving westward from the Great Lakes, we find temperate grasslands that were once widespread but have now been mostly converted to agricultural land.

3. Temperate rainforest is found in the Pacific Northwest and is a forest type known for its high biodiversity and potential to produce large volumes of commercially important products.

4. Tropical rainforest is found in regions near the equator, and is characterized by high rainfall year-round, uniformly warm temperatures, high biodiversity, and lush vegetation.

5. Tropical areas that are warm year-round but where rainfall is lower overall and highly seasonal give rise to tropical dry forest, or tropical deciduous forest.

6. Dry tropical areas across large stretches of Africa, South America, India, and Australia are savannas - regions of grasslands interspersed with clusters of trees.

7. Desert is the driest biome on Earth, and much of the rainfall occurs during isolated storms. Deserts are not always hot, but they have low humidity and relatively little vegetation to insulate them. Temperatures, therefore, may vary widely from day to night and across seasons.

8. Tundra is nearly as dry as desert, but is located in cold regions at very high latitudes along the northern edges of Russia, Canada, and Scandinavia. Little daylight in winter and lengthy, cool days in summer result in a landscape of lichens and low, scrubby vegetation without trees.

9. The northern coniferous forest, or boreal forest, often called taiga, develops in cooler, drier regions than temperate rainforests. Taigas stretch in a broad band across much of Canada, Alaska, Russia, and Scandinavia.

10. Chaparral is found in areas of Mediterranean climate, and consists of densely thicketed evergreen shrubs.

C. Altitude creates patterns analogous to latitude.

D. Aquatic systems also show biome-like patterns.

V. Conclusion

A. The natural world is so complex that we can visualize it in many ways and at various scales.

B. Dividing the world= s communities into major types, or biomes, is informative at the broadest geographic scales.

C. Understanding how communities function at more local scales requires an understanding of how species interact with one another.

D. Increasingly, humans are altering communities.



- 6 -