You are on page 1of 9


The environment has plants and animals of many sizes and shapes living out remarkably varied life cycles in different
kinds of habitat. Every place is shared by a number of co-existing organisms linked by feeding relationships and other
associations. Species are not fixed or unalterable. They evolve and adapt in response to the environment in which
they live. Because environmental conditions are also dynamic and constantly changing, the process of evolution and
adaptation of living organisms is never complete. Many biological communities are self-perpetuating, resilient, and
stable over relatively long times.
Critical Factors and Tolerance Limits
Every living organism has limits to the environmental conditions it can endure.
Tolerance limits - each environmental factor has both minimum and maximum levels beyond which a particular
species cannot survive or is unable to reproduce. For many species, the interaction of several factors working
together, rather than a single limiting factor, determines the biogeographical distribution. For other organisms, there
may be a specific critical factor that determines the abundance and distribution of that species.

Too low: lower limit

of Intolerance


Too high: upper limit

of Intolerance

Environmental Gradient

1. Saguaros cactus are extremely sensitive to low temperatures. A single exceptionally cold winter night with
temperatures below freezing for 12 hours or more will kill growing tips on the branches.
2. A desert pupfish occurs in small isolated populations in warm springs in desert. Adult pupfish can survive
temperatures between 0C and 42C. However, eggs and juvenile fish can only survive between 20 C and
36C and are killed at high salt levels.

Sometimes the requirements and tolerances of species are useful indicators of specific environmental
characteristics. The absence or presence of such species can tell us something about the community and the
ecosystem a whole. For example,

Locoweeds are small legumes that grow where soil concentrations of selenium are high. Because selenium
often is found with uranium deposits, locoweeds have an applied economic value as environmental

Lichens and eastern white pine are extremely sensitive to sulfur dioxide and acid precipitation. Therefore

they are indicators of air pollution.


Anglers know that trout species require clean, well oxygenated water, so the presence or absence of trout is
an indicator of water quality.


Examples of adaptation: mussels develop the ability to endure pounding waves; pupfish tolerate hot, mineral-laden
springs, saguaro cacti survive in the harsh temperature and extreme dryness of the desert.
Two types of Adaptation:
1. Physiological modification - available to individual organisms. Example: Houseplants placed in full sunlight may
get sunburned. The plants may grow new leaves with denser pigments that protect them from the sun. When
put inside the house again, they become sensitive to sun again. The changes they acquire are not passed on to
their offspring.
2. Natural selection - This operates at the population level and is brought about by inheritance of specific genetic
traits that allow species to live in a particular environment. Species change gradually through competition for
scarce resources and natural selection, a process in which those members of a population that are most "fit" or
best suited for a particular set of environmental conditions will survive and produce offspring more successfully
than their less fit competitors.
Natural selection acts on preexisting genetic diversity created by a series of small, random mutations (changes in
genetic material) that occur spontaneously in every population. These mutations produce a variety of traits,
some of which are more advantageous than others in a given situation. Where resources are limited or
environmental conditions place some selective pressure on a population, individuals with those advantageous
genes become more abundant in the population, and the species gradually evolves or becomes better suited to
that particular environment. Although each change may be very slight, many mutations over a very long time
have produced the incredible variety of different life forms that we observe in nature.
Environmental Factors that cause selective pressure and influence fertility or survivorship:
1. Physiological stress due to inappropriate levels of some critical environmental factors such as moisture, light,
temperature, pH, or specific nutrients.
2. Predation, including parasitism and disease
3. Competition; and
4. Fate or Luck (?) - In some cases the organisms that survive environmental catastrophes or find their way to
new habitat where they start a new population may simply be lucky rather than more fit or better suited to
subsequent environmental conditions than their less fortunate contemporaries.

Development of new species due to difference in time and space

1. Time - Given enough time and selective pressure, the members of a population become so different from
their ancestors that they may be considered an entirely new species that has replaced the original one.
2. Space - isolation of population subsets by geographical or behavioral factors that prevent exchange of
genetic material can result in branching off of new species that coexist with their parental line.

Example: Two populations of the same species become separated by a body of water, a desert or a
mountain range that they cannot cross. Over a long period of time, often millions of years, random
mutations and different environmental pressures may cause the populations to evolve along such dissimilar
paths that they can no longer interbreed successfully even if the opportunity to do arises. They have now
become separate species.
Convergent Evolution: Organisms coming to look and act very much alike:
If a community lacks woodpeckers, for example, some other species will likely take on the role of eating insects that
live under tree bark and in dead wood. Overtime, these ecological equivalents may come to look much like
woodpeckers even though they are genetically unrelated.
Habitat describes the place or set of environmental conditions in which a particular organism lives. Ecological niche
is a functional description of the role a species plays in a community -how it obtains food, what relationships it has
with other species, and the services it provides in its biological community
Functions in ecological niche:
1. Specialists - tend to be rarer than generalists and less resilient to disturbance or change. Panda feeds
exclusively on bamboos.
2. Generalists - eat wide variety of food and live in a broad range of habitats. Elephants, chimpanzees, and
baboons learn how to behave from their social group and can invent new ways of doing things when
presented with new opportunities or challenges.
Law of Competitive exclusion:
No two populations will occupy the same niche and compete exactly the same resources in the same habitat
for very long.
Resource Partitioning:
Given enough time, one group will win the struggle for survival and resources, causing the other group to
either migrate to a new area, become extinct or change its behavior or physiology in ways that minimize
competition. It can produce high levels of specialization that allows several species to share resources and
coexist within a single habitat.
Examples of resource partitioning:
Time as ecological factor: Swallows and insectivorous bats both catch insects, but some insect species are active
during the day and others at night, providing noncompetitive feeding opportunities for day-active swallows and
night-active bats.
Different species of warbler bird use different strata of the same forest: yellow-rumped warbler at height 10-20 ft,
bay-breasted warbler at 20-30 ft, black-throated green warbler at 40 ft, blackburnian warbler at 50 ft, and cape may
warbler at 60 ft.
1. From previous lessons, photosynthetic organisms are the producers; consumers include herbivores, carnivores,
omnivores, scavengers and decomposers.
2. Predator is an organism that feeds directly upon another living organism, whether or not it kills the prey to do
so. By this definition, herbivores, carnivores, and omnivores that feed on live prey are predators, but scavengers,

detritovores, and decomposers that feed on dead things are not.

3. In this broad sense, parasites (organisms that feed on a host organism or steal resources from it without killing
it) and even pathogens (disease-causing organisms) might also be included in this category.
Components of Predation:
1. All stages of the life cycles of predator and prey species
2. Many specialized food-obtaining mechanisms, and
3. Specific prey-predator adaptations that either resist or encourage predation.
Predation in life cycles:
Planktons - floating community such as eggs of crustaceans, mollusks and worms
Planktonic animals feed upon each other and food for successively larger carnivores including small fish
As prey species mature, their predators change. Example frogs are carnivores while tadpoles are herbivores.
Predators prey most successfully on the slowest, weakest and least fit members of their target population, thus
allowing successful traits to become dominant in the prey population and actually benefiting the prey species.
For example, when wolves and mountain lions were present, the deer were healthier and in better balance with
their environment than after these predators were removed. Without predators, the deer overpopulated the
area, exhausted their food supply and starved to death.
Competition is another kind of antagonistic relationship within a community.
Organisms compete for what:
Energy and matter in usable form
Space, e.g. Plants compete for growing space for root and shoot systems
Specific sites for life activities
Two Types of competition:
a) Intraspecific competition - competition among members of the same specific
b) Interspecific competition - competition between members of different species
1. Many weeds attempt to crowd out their rivals by producing immense numbers of seeds. After the seeds
germinate, the plants race to grow the tallest, cover the most ground and get the most sun. Vines don't build
heavy stems of their own; they simply climb up over their neighbors to get to the light.
2. Birds always eat fruits and berries just before they are ripe enough for people to pick. Having tolerance for
bitter, unripe fruit gives them an advantage in the race of food resources.
3. Some plants secrete leaf or root exudates that inhibit the growth of seedlings near them including their own
and those of other species.
4. Robins chase other robins during the mating and nesting season. Territoriality is an intense form of
intraspecific competition in which organisms define an area surrounding their home site or nesting site and
defend it, primarily against other members of their own species.
Symbiosis is the intimate living together of members of two or more species.

Commensalism is a type of symbiosis in which one member clearly benefits and the other apparently is
neither benefited nor harmed.
Example: cattle and cattle egrets are good example of commensals, as are many of the mosses, bromeliads
and other plants growing on trees in the moist tropics.
Mutualism is a type of symbiosis in which both members of the partnership benefits.
Parasitism is a form of predation and a type of symbiosis where one species benefits and the other is
1. Productivity
A community's productivity is measured as the rate of biomass production, an indication of the rate of
solar energy conversion to chemical energy.

Open Ocean
Coastal zone
Estuaries, coral reefs
Tropical Rainforest
Intensive Agriculture
Temperate Deciduous Forest
Coniferous forest

Tropical forests, coral reefs, and estuaries (bays or inundated river valleys where rivers meet the ocean)
have high levels of productivity because they have abundant supplies of all these resources.

In deserts, lack of water limits photosynthesis.

On the arctic tundra or high mountains, low temperatures inhibit plant growth.

In the open ocean, lack of nutrients reduces the ability of aquatic plants to make use of plentiful sunshine
and water.

Some agricultural crops such as corn and sugar cane grown under ideal conditions in the tropics approach
the productivity levels of tropical forests.

Marine ecosystems are much less productive, on the average, than terrestrial ecosystems because shallow
water ecosystems such as coral reefs, salt marshes, tidal mud flats and other highly productive aquatic
communities are relatively rare compared to the vast extent of open oceans - which are effectively biological

In photosynthesis: 25-75% of light reaching plants is reflected by leaf surfaces. Most of the light absorbed is
converted to heat that is dissipated by evaporation of water. Only 1 to 2 percent of absorbed energy is used
by chloroplasts to synthesize carbohydrates.

2. Abundance and Diversity.

Abundance is an expression of the total number of organisms in a biological community.
Diversity is a measure of the number of different species, ecological niches, or genetic variation present.

The abundance of a particular species often is inversely related to the total diversity of the community.
Communities with very large number of species often have only a few members of any given species in a
particular area.
As a general rule, diversity decreases but individual abundance increases as we go from the equator towards
the pole.

For example, the arctic has vast numbers of insects such as mosquitoes, but only a small number of species. The
tropics have vast number of species - some of which have incredibly bizarre forms and habits - but often only few
individuals of any particular species in a given area.
Factors affecting diversity:
1. Climate Greenland with such a harsh winter climate limits the ability of species to differentiate to new
forms. Tropics have abundant rainfall and warm temperature.
2. Availability of food
3. Moisture
4. Warmth support
3. Complexity and Connectedness
Complexity - refers to the number of species that each trophic level and the number of trophic levels in a
A diverse community may not be very complex if all its species are clustered in only a few trophic levels and form a
relatively simple food chain.
By contrast, a complex, highly interconnected community might have many trophic levels, some of which can be
compartmentalized into subdivisions. In tropic rainforests, for instance, the herbivores can be grouped into guilds
based on specialized ways they feed on plants. There may be fruit eaters, leaf nibblers, root borers, seed gnawers
and sap suckers each composed of species of very different size, shape, and even biological kingdom, but that feed
in related ways.
4. Resilience and Stability
Many biological communities tend to remain relatively stable and constant over time. An oak forest tends to remain
an oak forest, because the species that make it up have self-perpetuating mechanisms.
Three kinds of stability or resiliency in ecosystems:
a. Constancy - lack of fluctuations in composition and functions,
b. Inertia - resistance to perturbations
c. Renewal - ability to repair damage after disturbance.
5. Community Structure.
Ecological structure refers to patterns of spatial distribution of individuals and populations within the community as
well as the relation of particular community to its surroundings.

Local level, individuals in a single population can be distributed randomly, clumped together or in highly
regular patterns.

Some species cluster together for protection, mutual assistance, reproduction, or to gain access to a
particular environmental resource.

Distribution may be vertical or horizontal. For instance, tropical forests have many layers with different
environmental conditions and combinations of species. Aquatic communities are stratified into layers based
on light penetration in the water, temperature, salinity, pressure or other factors.

6. Ecological Succession
Biological communities have a history in a given landscape.
Ecological succession is the process by which organisms occupy a site and gradually change environmental
conditions so that other species can replace the original inhabitants.
Primary succession occurs when a community begins to develop on a site previously unoccupied by living organisms,
such as an island, sand or silt bed, a body of water or new volcanic flow.
Secondary succession occurs when an existing community is disrupted and a new one subsequently develops at the
site. The disruption may be caused by catastrophe, such as flooding, or by human activity such as deforestation,
plowing or mining. Both forms of succession usually follow an orderly sequence of stages as organisms modify the
environment in ways that allow one species to replace another.
Pioneer species - first colonizers of a new site, often microbes, mosses and lichens that can withstand harsh
condition and lack of resources.
The pioneer species gradually disappear as the environment changes and new species combinations replace the
preceding community.
Examples of ecological succession in:
1. Aquatic Ecosystem: The amount of open water in the lake or pond gradually decreases as vegetation encroaches
from the margins resulting in gradual community replacement progressing from the edges of the pond toward
the center. Succession proceeds from open lake to shallow pond with highly vegetated edges to marshy area
with rooted, emergent and finally to grassland or forest.

2. Burned-over forest. The bare soil first is colonized by rapidly growing plants (those that grow, flower and die the
same year) that have light, wind-blown seed and can tolerate full sunlight and exposed soil. They are followed
and replaced by perennial plants (those that live for several to many years), including grasses, various nonwoody
flowering plants, shrubs, and trees.
As primary succession, plant species progressively change the
environmental conditions. Biomass accumulates and the site becomes richer, better able to capture and store
moisture, more sheltered from wind and climate change, and biologically more complex.
Climax Community - Eventually in either primary or secondary succession a community develops that seemingly
resists further change. This is called climax community which appears to be the culmination of successional process.

Mature or highly developed ecological communities tend to be resilient and stable over long periods of time
because they can resist or recover from external disturbances.

Many are characterized by high species diversity, narrow niche specialization, well-organized community
structure, good nutrient conservation and recycling, and a large amount of total organic matter.

Community functions, such as productivity and nutrient recycling, tend to be self-stabilizing or selfperpetuating.

The rate of succession is so slow in climax community, that from the perspective of single human lifetime, it
appears to be stable.

Some landscapes never reach a stable climax because they are characterized by and adapted to periodic
disruption. They are called equilibrium communities or disclimax communities.
Grasslands, chaparral shrubland or some kind of coniferous forests are shaped and maintained by periodic
fires that have long been a part of their history. They are called fire-climax communities. Plants in these
communities are adapted to fires or to reseed quickly after fires or both. Without fire, community structure
may be quite different.


Species in Succession Communities
1. Succession requires the continual introduction of new community members and the disappearance of
previously existing species.
2. New species move in as conditions become suitable; others die or move out as the community changes.
3. New species can be introduced after a stable community already has become established.
4. Some cannot compete with existing species and fail to become established.
5. Others are able to fit into and become part of the community defining new ecological niches.
6. Some introduced species preys upon or competes more successfully with one or more populations that are
native to the community; the entire nature of community can be altered.
Experiences of introduced species.
1. Human introduction of European plants and animals to non-European communities often have been
disastrous to native species because of competition or over predations.
2. Oceanic island offer classic examples of devastation caused by rats, goats, cats and pigs liberated from
sailing ships. All these animals are prolific, quickly developing large populations. Goats are efficient,
nonspecific herbivores; they eat nearly everything vegetational, from grasses and herbs to seedlings and

shrubs. In addition, their sharp hooves are hard on plants rooted in thin island soils. Rats and pigs are
opportunistic omnivores, eating the eggs and nestling of seabirds that tend to nest in large, densely packed
colonies, and digging up sea turtle eggs. Cats prey upon nestlings of ground and tree-nesting birds.

Our lessons from this and similar situations have new technological twist. Some of the ethical questions
currently surrounding the release of genetically engineered organisms are based on concerns that they are
novel organisms, and we might not be able to predict how they will interact with other species in natural