From Wikipedia

The community begins with relatively few pioneering plants and animals and develops through increasing complexity until it becomes stable or self-perpetuating as a climax community.

From Wikipedia again,

Self-perpetuation, the capability of something to cause itself to continue to exist, is one of the main characteristics of life.

What I don't understand is every organism has the capability to perpetuate (except the sterile ones, which are not under consideration) even a seral community does then why is climax community specifically labeled self-perpetuating?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Here self-perpetuating means that the community is able to sustain it'self and continue, more or less, as it is. A seral community is an ever changing one, so it can't be considered a self-perpetuating one. $\endgroup$ Jan 25, 2017 at 16:21
  • $\begingroup$ "Climax community" suggests a long enough history to have tested, and perhaps evolved, relationships between the member species such that a high degree of stability exists. Among other needs, members have enough to eat, places to live and controls on overpopulation. It suggests a dynamic equilbrium between the member species. It should be noted that the concept of climax community, although having theoretical uses, is currently "abandoned" as an actual construct in favor of terms like "old growth". en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Climax_community $\endgroup$
    – bpedit
    Jan 25, 2017 at 17:58

1 Answer 1


The key here is to recognize the distinction between a community as a whole and the individual species within that community. Just because individuals have the capability to self-perpetuate, doesn't mean that a community as a whole does.

For example, imagine an island with a whole bunch of caterpillars. Now imagine that you introduce a non-native caterpillar-infesting wasp. On the mainland, the caterpillars have evolved resistance to this wasp and so can fight off the infestation. But on the island, they never evolved that resistance, and rapidly succumb. Upon introduction of the wasp, you have a "community" of wasps and caterpillars. The caterpillars can reproduce, as they have been, so they're self-perpetuating within their species. The wasps can also reproduce by laying their eggs in the caterpillars, so their species is self-perpetuating. But the wasp infestation is killing caterpillars faster than they can reproduce, so the community is unstable. Over time, the population of both wasps and caterpillars will crash as all the caterpillars die off. Each species can self-perpetuate, but the wasp/caterpillar community, taken as a whole, does not.

That, in a slightly more complex way, is what happens with non-climax communities. The pioneer species change the environment in a way that permits other species to grab a toe-hold. These species are more suited to the changed environment, and thus push the pioneer species out.

For example, species which can survive in nutrient-poor soil grow and die in that soil, enriching it with nutrients. Now that the soil is no longer nutrient poor, faster-growing plants can grow in the soil, and push out those species which started there. Each individual plant can reproduce, but the community as a whole is changing from one which favors the nutrient-poor adapted plants to the nutrient-rich adapted ones.

It's only in a climax community where the members of the climax community create/maintain an environment which is most conducive to the climax community species. This is why it (the climax community) is being called "self-perpetuating". The community as a whole is maintaining an environment which favors those species which make up that community.

Wipe out the climax community species (e.g. through a forest fire), and you no longer have an environment which favors the climax community species. A new set of species comes in, changing the environment, which then allows other species to come in, changing the environment further, which then ...

  • $\begingroup$ 'The community as a whole is maintaining an environment which favors those species which make up that community' to forever last, at least theoretically ? $\endgroup$
    – Tyto alba
    Jan 26, 2017 at 4:12
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    $\begingroup$ @SanjuktaGhosh Well, "forever" is a very long time. The concept of a "climax community" is no longer well accepted by ecology researchers, for this very reason. Many think it's inaccurate to pick out a particular community as "climax", as no community lasts forever due to fires, floods, storms, plagues, etc. But the use of the term "climax community" - in as much as it has any meaning - implies that the community is stable, ignoring "outside" influences like fire, etc. -- it's part of the definition of what a climax community is. $\endgroup$
    – R.M.
    Jan 26, 2017 at 16:49

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