Patterns in Nature

Natural Communities: How Ecologists See the World

Where others see “greenery,” ecologists see patterns. They notice that some types of trees are more common on hilltops, while others are more common in floodplains. They notice that a certain shrub tends to occur in the same settings as a certain tree. They notice entire combinations of trees and shrubs that tend to occur together in specific physical settings—whether a rocky slope, a swampy depression, or a deep ravine.
Ecologists call these patterns of vegetation natural communities.

And natural communities are just the beginning of a whole new way of seeing the world.

Explore these sections in Patterns in Nature

Seeing the Patterns

Natural patterns in the landscape—what shapes them? What's the difference between natural, semi-natural, and not-so-natural communities? How do natural communities fit together in the landscape to form still larger patterns?

Naming and Mapping the Patterns

How (and why?) are natural communities identified and mapped in the field?

Assessing Vulnerability

Which natural communities are vulnerable to elimination and which ones are secure? What are Conservation Statuses that ecologists assign?