Mycorrhizae: Ecological Succession’s Copilot

Harvesting mycorrhizae off roots / image: James Sottilo

Ecological Succession: A Driving Force

Ecological succession (ES) remains one of the most significant determinants of Earth’s biotic life and diversity. Defined as the process of change in the species structure of an ecological community over time, ES drives the environmental shifts of nature and conceives the biological architectures of past, present, and future landscapes.

ES can be broken into three recognized phases: primary succession, secondary succession, and climax community. Primary succession is the series of community changes that occur within an entirely new habitat that has been devoid of life—for example, after a major disturbance such as flood, fire, or volcanic release.

Secondary succession is the process by which an established community is replaced by the next set of biodiversity. Most biological communities remain in a continual state of secondary succession as communities experience minor disturbances, either natural or man-made, that inhibit or reset the successional process.

A climax community represents a stable end product of the successional sequence. Many recognize the Oak-Poplar Forest as a climax community but still acknowledge that any environment can be suddenly disorganized by random variables such as introduced, non-native species. It is said that ES will always remain as Earth is in an ever-changing state.

Today, many forget to recognize the successional phases that are undoubtedly turning all around us. Aesthetic, monetary, and time resources can, at times, skew an image, only accounting for the “now” variables. While this planning stage is necessary, a landscape may be on borrowed time without subsequent conception. Where will the landscape be in one year, one decade, one generation from now? How will it be enjoyed? Will it serve a greater purpose than its original scope? What changes have and will be exerted on this space? Questions such as these can help build upon the natural rhythms of succession while also bridging histories.

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A (Natural) Melody in Midtown

Grand Army Plaza, New York City / image: James Sottilo

I have known James for over six years. We met at an ASLA Annual Meeting when I heard him speak. Subsequently, I invited him to speak at all four of the Organic Landcare Symposiums that Atlanta BeltLine put on. His breadth of knowledge is inspiring and every time I hear him, I learn something new. I hope you will find this post enlightening and that it might even encourage you to explore more about creating environments for healthy soil microbiology.

-Kevin Burke, ASLA, Sustainable Design and Development PPN Officer

Located in Midtown at the intersection of Fifth Avenue and 59th Street, Grand Army Plaza stands as a gateway to New York City’s Central Park. Its grand gesture design and historical significance have made it a notable place since its original construction in 1916.

In September 2015, the Central Park Conservancy completed a major restoration of the northern section of the plaza, including the General Sherman statue. Site work included reconstruction of paving, stonework, benches, and lighting, all designed to be in keeping with the original historic design. Electric, drainage, and irrigation infrastructure were fully replaced. The trees at the plaza perimeter, previously lost in an October 2011 snowstorm, were replaced with a double row of London Plane trees, to be consistent with the original design. The placement of CU-Structural Soil™ was incorporated beneath all pavements to provide adequate soil volume for mature tree root systems.

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