100 Influential Papers - page 17

P I ONE E R I NG DE S CR I P T I V E S TUD I E S
Smith, W.G. (1913)
Raunkiaer’s “life-forms” and statistical methods.
Journal of Ecology, 1, 16-26.
Smith reviewed two kinds of contribution by Raunkiaer: characterization of vegetation types in terms of ‘life-form spectra’, and studies on
the merits of different-sized samples of vegetation. Here I cover only the first of these. Raunkiaer’s work had previously been set out only
in Danish, French and German. He wanted to get away from classification in terms of floristics, and find a means of expressing in terms of
what we would now call structure and physiognomy the impact of the climate on vegetation (especially seasonal cold and lack of rain). He
introduced ‘life-forms’ based partly on height attained at maturity, partly on the positions of the buds during any ‘critical or rigorous season’,
and partly on whether the buds persist in waterlogged soil or under a body of water. These had the now-familiar names of phanerophyte,
chamaephyte, hemicryptophyte, geophyte, helophyte, hydrophyte and therophyte. In his comparisons of different vegetation types (rain
forest, temperate deciduous forest, semi-desert etc) summarized by Smith, Raunkiaer also used the established terms stem-succulent and
epiphyte. His practice of comparing the life-form spectrum of each vegetation type with ‘the normal spectrum’ (a mean spectrum based on
the whole world’s vegetation) was not widely adopted, but his categories have been used by innumerable plant ecologists.
Peter Grubb
26
Oliver, F.W. (1913)
Some remarks on Blakeney Point, Norfolk.
Journal of Ecology, 1, 4-15.
F.W. Oliver, Quain Professor of Botany at University College
London, gave Tansley his first job and remained his patron.
He was a member of the British Vegetation Committee
(predecessor of the British Ecological Society), host at UCL
in 1913 to the inaugural meeting of the BES, and its second
President. He advocated, and energetically practised, the
application of ecology in public affairs. With Tansley, he led
student parties (1904-1906) to the Bouche d’Erquy in Brittany,
and in later years to Blakeney Point on the north Norfolk coast
(where he worked with E.J. Salisbury, commissioned the first
use of aerial survey in ecology, acquired Blakeney Point and
presented it to the National Trust). These student parties,
which studied the ecology and ecophysiology of plants on
shingle, sand dune, and saltmarsh, continue even today.
Oliver here summarises the work of the early excursions.
He describes the growth of the series of shingle ridges that
resemble ‘a dilapidated comb in which the surviving teeth
occur in groups near the end’. He notes, with reservations,
space as a surrogate for time in the study of successions.
He recognises ‘catastrophism’ and continuous processes.
He makes quantitative calculations of the shingle source.
And he considers the autecology of
Suaeda fruticosa
and
Artemisia maritima.
Dicky Clymo
27
Marsh, A.S. (1915)
The maritime ecology of Holme next the Sea,
Norfolk.
Journal of Ecology, 3, 65-93.
Coastal environments have been important theatres for
research from the inception of plant ecology, the
Journal of
Ecology
and indeed the Society. Salt marshes, shingle and dunes
were manifestly dynamic systems, which exhibited striking
environmental and vegetational gradients; arguably these are the
ingredients that inspired the development of several fundamental
concepts and particularly those related to succession. In volume
3 of the
Journal of Ecology
, Marsh reported substantial and
intensive field investigations by a team that brought together a
range of expertise and techniques. They recognized and mapped
the different vegetation communities (‘societies’), relating their
distribution to sediment depth and texture, elevation, and the
degree of tidal inundation. Having documented the shifting
physiography of this coast from historical sources and his own
surveys, Marsh appreciated the dynamic nature of coastal
systems; he described the role of disturbance in maintaining the
vegetational mosaic, and interpreted successional relationships
between the plant communities – an early example of space-
for-time substitution. This classic paper promises further
instalments and the initiation of experimental work but,
sadly, with the outbreak of World War I, he felt duty-bound to
volunteer. Captain Marsh was shot through the heart by a sniper
at Armentières in January 1916, a month short of his
24th birthday.
Tony Davy
28
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