100 Influential Papers - page 19

Stephenson, T.A. & Stephenson, A. (1949)
The universal features of zonation between tide-marks on rocky coasts.
Journal of Ecology, 37, 289-305.
Marine biologists around the world described their local shores and emphasised the unique inhabitants. Alan Stephenson took a contrary
view. While at the University of Cape Town he compared temperate shores to the west of the Cape with tropical ones to the east. He
concluded that despite their differences there were underlying similarities and these were of widespread occurrence. He and his wife Anne
studied more shores around the world than anyone before and since. In the 1949 paper he outlined his aim which was to introduce a system...
‘which may be of universal application.’ He defined four recurring zones that were characterised by types of organisms. The
the area wetted by spray and inhabited by lichens and littorinid snails; the
midlittoral zone
of barnacles and limpets that was covered
and uncovered daily by the tide, and so on. On shores not obscured by seaweeds the white band of barnacles and above it a band of black
lichens are unmissable. Their scheme provided a standard nomenclature to enable researchers worldwide to specify exactly where they were
working in a steep environmental gradient. This was particularly useful when from the 1960s onwards the seashore became a test bed for
field-based experiments exploring the interactions between stress tolerance and interspecific competition.
Trevor Norton
Poore, M.E.D. & McVean, D.N. (1957)
A new approach to Scottish mountain vegetation.
Journal of Ecology, 45, 401-439.
This paper had a much wider impact than its title might suggest. It was
outstanding in the way it contributed to the transition from a mainly floristic
approach to research on Scottish plant communities to a better appreciation
of the role of the ecological factors which determine their composition. Based
on studies carried out by methods described by Poore in three papers closely
preceding this one [
Journal of Ecology
, 226-269 and 606-651], the ‘new
approach’ advocates a framework of five ‘factor complexes’ – altitudinal
zonation, oceanicity, snow cover, base status, and moisture – and on this basis
provides descriptions of a range of communities selected partly for ‘their
intrinsic interest and partly to illustrate how the patterns of Scottish mountain
vegetation can be fitted into the ecological framework’. This offered a novel
and practical basis both for future studies and for the further development
and interpretation of this attractive and important set of communities. Poore
and McVean deplore the fact that previous work in the UK on mountain
vegetation makes scant reference to the extensive and relevant Scandinavian
publications on this topic. They go some way to remedying this lack, and their
lead has been fruitful in the recognition of important parallels or contrasts
between Scandinavian and British findings.
Charles Gimingham
Webb, L.J. (1959)
A physiognomic classification of
Australian rain forests.
Journal of Ecology,
47, 551-570.
No doubt one reason this paper has been cited
more than 300 times is that it used structural and
physiognomic criteria to classify vegetation, a lead
later followed by many. It also echoed Beadle’s
view that soil fertility is a major determinant of
vegetation structure and plant form in Australia.
For me, however, Webb’s description struck a deep
chord because it crystallized the latitudinal and
geological distributions of vegetation characterized
by differences in leaf size and shape, in canopy
stature, stratification, continuity, and deciduousness,
and in the abundance of woody vs. herbaceous vines,
tree ferns, palms, and vascular and non-vascular
epiphytes. The obvious question in each case –
though never articulated by Webb – was why? Why
do plants with different leaf forms and growth habits
dominate different climates and substrates? Why,
over much of the Great Dividing Range, do sclerophyll
forests dominate the tablelands while rain
forests dominate the gullies? Why does maximum
tree height increase with latitude in Australian rain
forests? Why are deciduous trees so uncommon in
Australia? Such questions – and their physiological,
population, and ecosystem-level ramifications – have
long been an impetus to my thoughts, and Webb’s
paper is now increasingly cited for such reasons by
other authors.
Tom Givnish
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