Natural succession in the woods of home

When I studied ecology in the 1970s, one of the foundations was natural succession.  This is the process where one ecological community evolves into another and an abandoned field becomes a stable forest.  First come weeds, then grass, followed by fast growing trees like cottonwoods or box elder. They are replaced by longer lived trees like oaks and finally there is a stable climax forest.  I liked to study this. It had a determinist logic, with everything building toward a final goal. In a place like Indiana, the final forest would be oak-hickory forest.

This formulation is too simple.  There really is no final goal or a final equilibrium.  Balance can be had along the way and nothing really lasts forever.  I think it is similar to our understanding of evolution.  Evolution does not have a direction.  Things may not get more sophisticated and certainty do not always move up toward better outcomes.

My pictures show the progress in the forests around the Tippecanoe battlefield.  It was cleared as a farm field  in the 1800s.  The big trees are oaks. They were probably left or planted as boundary markers.  When the fields were abandoned forests came back.  The signs say that the climax forest will be/is an oak-hickory forest, but a closer looks indicates this might not be true.  The oaks and hickories are big and apparently dominant, but the smaller trees are maples.  Maples are more shade tolerant and will come to replace the oaks in time.  Oaks require semi-open sunlight and won’t reproduce in the shade. But something will happen to create a disturbance and …

The challenge now are invasive.  New plants and animals have been introduced from other places around the world.  How they will fit in, nobody can be sure.

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