100 Influential Papers - page 18

Summerhayes, V.S. & Elton, C.S. (1923)
Contributions to the ecology of Spitsbergen and Bear Island.
Journal of Ecology, 11, 214-286.
In 1921, a group of Oxford University biologists spent ten weeks in the Arctic carrying
out ecological surveys on Bear Island and Spitsbergen. The group included Charles
Elton, a 21 year-old second year student, recruited by his tutor, Julian Huxley. The
species-poor communities allowed Elton, working with Victor Summerhayes, a recent
graduate in botany who became an orchid expert at Kew, to realize that their ecology
could most effectively be described by food relationships. This recognition [elaborated
further in
Journal of Ecology
(1928)
16
, 193-268] persuaded Elton to focus on what he
called the ‘sociology and economics of animals’ and to develop ideas about trophic
levels and number pyramids. He refined these concepts on subsequent visits to
Spitsbergen in 1923 and 1924 and led him on to investigate the factors that regulate
population numbers – concepts which he set out in his seminal 1927 book
Animal
Ecology
(written at Huxley’s instigation in 85 days). Elton’s experiences on his Arctic
expeditions laid the basis for what became a key component of the ‘British tradition’ of
scientific natural history.
R.J. (Sam) Berry
Tansley, A.G. & Adamson, R.S. (1925)
Studies of the vegetation of the English chalk. III. The chalk grasslands
of the Hampshire-Sussex border.
Journal of Ecology, 13, 177-223.
This paper is not just an account of the floristics of the chalk grassland, chalk heath
and juniper scrub of a part of the South Downs that Tansley loved. For many ecologists
the chief interest is in the authors’ pioneering experiment with rabbit-exclosures. The
exclosures were big (390-820 m
2
) and not sufficiently replicated by modern standards
(two only). Nevertheless they revealed effects found repeatedly by later researchers.
The experiment was begun in 1908, showing that although Tansley did not generally
carry out experiments on single species under garden or laboratory conditions [p. 27],
he recognized early on the need for field experiments. The 1925 paper documented the
specific effects of close grazing by rabbits as opposed to sheep. Most characteristic is
the great reduction in grasses relative to the dicot
Sanguisorba minor
so that the latter
species becomes the dominant, and grass leaves are seen to be bitten off exactly at
the level where they begin to poke through the
Sanguisorba
canopy. Exclosure led to a
large increase in grass relative to
Sanguisorba
, and illustrated the variation in flexibility of
growth form among the dicots that are common in very short turf – some can grow tall
and persist without close grazing while others cannot grow tall and are overwhelmed.
Peter Grubb
S ECT I ON THR E E
P I ONE E R I NG DE S CR I P T I V E S TUD I E S
29
30
31
Chapman, V.J. (1938)
Studies in salt-marsh ecology.
Sections I to III.
Journal of Ecology,
26, 144-179.
This was the first paper in a series by
V. J. Chapman in the journal, and
introduces the studies based on the
north Norfolk coast, and especially
Scolt Head Island, which were to
make a hugely significant contribution
to our understanding of salt marsh
ecology. Somewhat descriptive by
today’s standards, it outlines the main
environmental factors which influence the
distribution of plant species, emphasising
the overriding effect of tidal submergence.
In dividing salt marshes into two main
types Chapman invites us to test, in future
work, the idea that the downward spread
of species of the upper marsh is limited by
increasing submergence and the upward
spread of lower marsh species is limited
by the degree of non-tidal exposure.
Whilst later research has emphasised the
importance of dynamic processes such as
facilitation and competition in assembling
salt marsh communities, Chapman’s
careful analysis of the tidal and physical
environment in this first paper set the
scene for many subsequent studies of
primary succession in a frequently zoned
and highly structured environment.
Alan Gray
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