Ecological Understanding of Insects in Organic Farming Systems: Ecological Succession

eOrganic author:

Mary E. Barbercheck, Penn State University

Ecological succession is the predictable changes in the structure of an ecological community (Schowalter, 2006). In agroecosystems, succession is usually initiated by some form of disturbance (for example, fire, logging, tillage of grasslands) of an existing ecological community. The trajectory of ecological change is affected by site conditions, by the interactions of the species present, and by more random factors, for example the kinds of seeds in the soil or weather conditions. In general, in early succession (soon after a disturbance), communities will be dominated by colonizers--fast-growing, easily dispersed, opportunistic species specialized to exploit disturbance (for example, annual weeds). As time after disturbance lengthens and succession proceeds, colonizer species will tend to be replaced by those that are more competitive ("persisters", for example, perennial weeds, woody species). In general, disturbance is used in agroecosystems to control succession to favor crop plants over invasive opportunistic pests and more competitive species.

References and Citations

  •  Schowalter, T.D. 2006. Insect Ecology: An Ecosystem Approach. 2nd Edition. Academic Press. Burlington, MA.

Additional Resources

  • Pedigo, L.P., and M.E. Rice. 2006. Entomology and pest management. 5th ed. Pearson Prentice Hall. Columbus, OH.


  • Wikipedia contributors. Succession [Online]. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Available at: (verified 11 March 2010).


Published February 9, 2009

This is an eOrganic article and was reviewed for compliance with National Organic Program regulations by members of the eOrganic community. Always check with your organic certification agency before adopting new practices or using new materials. For more information, refer to eOrganic's articles on organic certification.