Rethinking plant community theory

Christopher J. Lortie, Rob W. Brooker, Philippe Choler, Zaal Kikvidze, Richard Michalet, Francisco I. Pugnaire, Ragan M. Callaway

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

460 Scopus citations


Plant communities have traditionally been viewed as either a random collection of individuals or as organismal entities. For most ecologists however, neither perspective provides a modern comprehensive view of plant communities, but we have yet to formalize the view that we currently hold. Here, we assert that an explicit re-consideration of formal community theory must incorporate interactions that have recently been prominent in plant ecology, namely facilitation and indirect effects among competitors. These interactions do not support the traditional individualistic perspective. We believe that rejecting strict individualistic theory will allow ecologists to better explain variation occurring at different spatial scales, synthesize more general predictive theories of community dynamics, and develop models for community-level responses to global change. Here, we introduce the concept of the integrated community (IC) which proposes that range from highly natural plant communities individualistic to highly interdependent depending on synergism among: (i) stochastic processes, (ii) the abiotic tolerances of species, (iii) positive and negative interactions among plants, and (iv) indirect interactions within and between trophic levels. All of these processes are well accepted by plant ecologists, but no single theory has sought to integrate these different processes into our concept of communities.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)433-438
Number of pages6
Issue number2
StatePublished - Nov 2004


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