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Testing the assumptions of chronosequences in succession




Many introductory ecology textbooks illustrate succession, at least in part, by using certain classic studies (e.g. sand dunes, ponds/bogs, glacial till, and old fields) that substituted space for time (chronosequence) in determining the sequences of the succession. Despite past criticisms of this method, there is continued, often uncritical, use of chronosequences in current research on topics besides succession, including temporal changes in biodiversity, productivity, nutrient cycling, etc. To show the problem with chronosequence-based studies in general, we review evidence from studies that used non-chronosequence methods (such as long-term study of permanent plots, palynology, and stand reconstruction) to test the space-for-time substitution in four classic succession studies. In several cases, the tests have used the same locations and, in one case, the same plots as those in the original studies. We show that empirical evidence invalidates the chronosequence-based sequences inferred in these classic studies.