Columns Sep 28, 2011 at 4:00 am

Charles Mudede Asks About the Climax Community Hypothesis


Interesting article. At first glance I thought the climax community was another "sex positive" orgy warehouse. I guess I will have to read more on the subject.
Jonathan you are wonderful.
You're presenting a very different version of the climax community than the one I'm familiar with. As far as I'm aware, the climax community is nothing more (or less) than the community that will stick around in a given area if nothing changes (no natural disasters and the like). In this view, a climax community is neither good nor bad (none of this "ideal" and "superorganism" stuff); it's just the one that isn't going to change on its own.

Example: a forest in the Northwest burns down. You now have dirt, ashes, and various other debris. Then grass starts to grow. Then shrubs. Then little trees. Then big trees. As this happens, the trees start shading out the grass and shrubs, killing them. Fast growing trees are overtaken by slow growing trees. Eventually you have lots and lots of big, slow growing trees but no grass and shrubs. The grassland isn't a climax community will go away on it's own (to be replaced by trees). Unless something happens (natural disaster, etc,) the forest won't go away ; it's a climax community. The forest isn't more ideal than the grassland, it's just more permanent.
Lorran@3 What you're referring to is a mature or old-growth community. While that is sometimes referred to as a "climax community" by non-scientists today, it doesn't actually fit the definition of climax theory.
It is worth bringing up the red queen hypothesis of evolutionary biology. There is a great pop sci book names "The Red Queen" that is written at a level anyone can understand to explain it.

Basically, it points out that evolution is not a always moving "forward" and must be thought of as much more cyclical. There is competition between differences species so you would assume the arms race leads to better and better genes for things such as running faster or jumping higher. The theory explains why we actually see many evolution constantly coming around in a circle, whereas what was advantageous yesterday might not be advantageous tomorrow.

I think the climax community idea is far too idealistic that there is a "best" community. That idea not only does not work in practice but the very theory of a best community does not pan out.
I am not an advocate of climax hypothesis, but in the study of biomimicry we look for long term sustainable communities like prairie to replace monoculture annual type crops. By discovering self sustaining (i.e. little to no pesticides, fertilizers) communities that are capable of nitrogen fixation and productive edible crops perennially the concept of "climax communities" are important.
@3, thanks for the clarity. really, that made the matter plain to me. and neatly removed my moralism from the picture. Your response, and Golob's, put me on solid ground.
charles, you're a religious man without a religion, something i understand
I'm glad @3 helped clear things up for you, Charles, but s/he is wrong.@4 is right. For more information about how plant community succession actually works, I would recommend reading Henry A. Gleason's classic 1926 article (available to anyone with internet access, has been cited over 1200 times): The individualistic concept of the plant association. Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club 53: 7-26. Or better yet, go interview Jerry Franklin at UW, for the love of God. He's one of the top researchers on forest succession and processes and he lives in your own city.

Jonathan's great and all, but this is a much too difficult and intricate topic to be adequately dealt with in a few paragraphs.
Jonathan, you need to need to steer clear of ecology questions. They obviously aren't your strong point.

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