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BIOLOGY 403:

PRINCIPLES OF ECOLOGY
(Regulatory / Limiting Factors)
LIMITING / REGULATING
FACTORS
• Limiting Factor ???
Is Regulatory Factor a better term?
• Virtually anything can be Limiting /
Regulating .
• Nutrients (or other minerals), Temperature,
Light, Water, Atmospheric Gases,
Currents and Pressures, Soil, Fire, Biotic
Factors (just to name some)
LIEBIG’S LAW OF THE MINIMUM
• Justus Liebig (1830’s-1840’s, agronomist)

• From his work we get what some call Liebig’s


Law of the Minimum

• The size of a crop is determined by the


essential nutrient that is present in minimal
amount.

• PARAPHRASED: the weakest link


determines the strength of the chain
WEAKNESSES IN LIEBIG’S LAW
• he was only interested in nutrients

• interested only in the effects from nutrient


deficiency

• did not take into account + and – synergisms

• SYNERGISM –-- result of an interaction of


two or more factors so that the combined
effect is greater (+ or -) than the sum of their
separate effects
SHELFORD’S LAW OF TOLERANCE
• the absence or poor performance of a species
may be controlled by the qualitative or
quantitative deficiency or excess of any factor
that approaches the limit of tolerance

• much more general

• just an ‘extension’ of Liebig’s ideas ???

• lower limit, optimum, upper limit


SOME RIDERS / AFTERTHOUGHTS
• relatively large variations in factor intensity are of
relatively small consequence in the region of the
optimum

• a particular organism may have narrow ranges of


tolerance for some factors, medium for others and
wide for yet others

• these ranges / limits may vary seasonally,


geographically (ecotypes), and/or with the stage
of the life cycle (age)

• when conditions are not optimal for one factor this


may influence other factors (? domino effect ?)
MORE RIDERS / AFTERTHOUGHTS
• organisms rarely (IF EVER!) live under optimal
conditions for all (or even most) factors

• organisms live where an acceptable ‘ecologic sum’


exists, that is, where a multitude of factors are at
their ‘relative best’

• an acceptable ‘ecologic sum’ can be arrived at in


more than one way

• in ‘real’ systems it is often difficult (and unrealistic)


to single out ONE thing as the major regulatory
factor (WHY ?????)
SOME IMPORTANT PREFIXES
• Steno
• (narrow range)

• Meso
• (middle or a bit wider range)

• Eury
• (wide range)
SOME IMPORTANT SUFFIXES
• thermal

• hydric

• haline

• phagic

• oecious or ecious
STENO ORGANISMS
• They are specialists.

• Advantage ???

• Disadvantage ???
EURY ORGANISMS
• They are generalists (“jack of all trades”)

• Advantage ???

• Disadvantage ???
WHICH REGUALTORY FACTOR
IS HAVING THE EFFECT ????
• shrub genus Emmeranthe

• species A grows on ‘normal’ soils


species B grows on serpentine soils (high in
Mg, Fe and low in Ca, P, N)

• transplant them to the other’s habitat and


they die?

• Why ?????
WHICH REGUALTORY FACTOR
IS HAVING THE EFFECT ????
• Sp. A cannot tolerate the unusual nutrient
conditions in the serpentine soils

• Sp. B doesn’t need (as such) the unusual


nutrient conditions in the serpentine soils

• Sp. B does well in ‘normal’ soils that have


been autoclaved

• bacterial toxins from bacteria that live only in


the ‘normal’ soils inhibit Sp. B
NUTRIENTS
• most material covered previously

• too much of a nutrient as well as too little can be harmful

• Too little (???)

• Too much (???)

• Synergisms and extrapolation (fertilizer experiment)


• + NaNO3 --- 10% increase in yield
• + K2SO4 --- 10% increase in yield
• + both --- doubled the yield
TEMPERATURE (I)
• Sometimes difficult to determine if this is the major
factor --- WHY?

• Often interacts with moisture

• Temps on the earth (oC): -70 to +100 or more

• Some spores can tolerate these conditions (and even


worse in laboratory studies)

• Some living organisms can be active at the upper


natural extremes but few anywhere near the lower

• Majority are found active between 0 o and 40o. WHY?


TEMPERATURE (II)
• Highest temp. in some ecosystems

• 36o in normal seawater

• Land shade temp. often reaches 46o for a month or


more; sometimes 55o

• High or low temp. may be regulating but seasonal


fluctuations are often regulating; Midcontinental
areas (Minnesota) may have 35o (some areas of Tibet
reported to be 80o)

• Maritime equatorial area may be as little as 0.5o


TEMPERATURE (III)

• Regulating temp. may vary depending on other


abiotic environmental factors or with the stage in
the life cycle

• Temp. varies with altitude and latitude; it is temp.


rather than these factors which is REALLY
regulating

• Temp. decreases 5.5oC for every 1,000 m (3oF for


every 1,000 ft.)
TEMPERATURE (IV)
(Is it altitude and latitude?)
TEMPERATURE (V)
• North / South temp. cline similar to the Altitudinal
temp. cline

• Limiting effect of temp. --- Sequoia sempervirens


(the coast redwood)
pacific coast fogbelt
to s. Oregon (temp.) --- freezing of seedlings
c. coastal California (moisture)

• Pedicularis groenlandica (Colorado rockies)


not above 10,000 ft.
not altitude directly
temp. --- but not directly on the plant
obligate outcrosser --- temp. on its pollinator (bee)
WATER (I)
• Essential for all life forms

• Some organisms never ingest ‘free’ water

• Too little water (drought) – directly


regulating

• Too much water – more of an indirect effect


• Leaching of nutrients
• Too little O2 in waterlogged soils
WATER (II)
• Total yearly precipitation not as important as
‘EFFECTIVE PRECIPITATION’

• One area with 45 in. (114 cm.) could support


deciduous forest while another at the same latitude
could be grassland or even desert

• WHY?
WATER (III)
• ‘EFFECTIVE PRECIPITATION’ depends on:

• Total precipitation
• Seasonal distribution
• Temp.
• Wind
• Relative humidity
• Soil

• Precipitation may become more effective with


increasing elevation and then less effective
WHY?
LIGHT (I)
• Important for animals as well as plants

• Can have too much as well as too little

• Light and temp. often related


WHY / HOW ?

• 3 factors / aspects we are concerned with:


• Quality (= wavelength)
• Intensity
• Duration
LIGHT (II)
• Quality (= wavelength) effects:

• photosynthesis

• Flowering initiation (red/far red light in so-


called short or long day plants)

• Some plant and animal tropisms

• Some organism processes / activities


LIGHT (III)
• Intensity effects:

• Plant (auxin responses) and animal tropisms

• Photosynthesis
compensation point (~100 fc)
saturation point (~2,000 fc, about 1/5 of full
sunlight)

• Humans (SAD)
LIGHT (IV)
• Duration effects:

• May interact with quality and/or intensity

• Plant flowering

• Metamorphosis in some insects; resting


stages in many plants and animals

• Humans (SAD)
ATMOSPHERIC GASES (I)
• Already discussed water vapor

• Already discussed nitrogen as a nutrient

• NOX --- important in acid precipitation

• SO2 --- important in acid precipitation

• O2 and CO2 are the main gases

• Rarely are O2 and CO2 overly regulating in


terrestrial situations (sometimes in very highly
organic soils, waterlogged soils or at high elevations)
ATMOSPHERIC GASES (II)
• O2 and CO2 often regulating in aquatic
systems

• Water holds only about 5% the amount of O2


found in an equal volume of air

• CO2 is quite soluble and can alter pH


(currently affecting marine ecosystems)
CURRENTS & PRESSURES (I)

• Especially important in aquatic situations


WHY?

• Directly on organisms in aquatic situations


- HOW?

• Indirectly on aquatic organisms


- HOW?

• Winds (direct and indirect), more often important


at higher elevations
CURRENTS & PRESSURES (II)

• Especially important in aquatic situations


WHY?

• Generally not very important in terrestrial


situations
WHY?
SOIL (I)
• More concerned with texture, structure and mode
of formation

• Terrestrial soils can be delimited on mode of


formation:
• Residual (in place)
• Colluvial (talus)
• Alluvial (deltas, etc.)
• Glacial (till)
• Wind (eolian) --- dune and loess
SOIL (II)
• Soil texture

• Parent material usually 90% or more of the soil solids;


texture usually refers to this constituent

• One system of classification:


• Coarse gravel --- 5.0 mm and larger

-
Fine gravel --- 2.0 mm to 5.0 mm

-
Coarse sand --- 0.2 mm to 2.0 mm

-
Fine sand --- 0.02 mm to 0.2 mm

-
Silt --- 0.002 mm to 0.02 mm
• Clay --- less than 0.002 mm (colloidal size particles)
SOIL (III)
• Soil particle size influences:

• Moisture holding capacity

• Aeration

• Fertility

• Root and animal penetration / burrowing ability

• Freezing and thawing patterns


SOIL (V)
SOIL (VI)
FIRE
• Helps maintain some grasslands

• Helps maintain some pine forests

• Surface fires often temporarily increase


productivity
BIOTIC FACTORS
• Some animals may help maintain vegetation in an
area

• Pollinator specificity

• Seed dissemination by animals

• Effects of humans

• Other interactions (predation, etc.)