Gap Dynamics

Document Type

Contribution to Book

Journal/Book Title/Conference

Leaf Development and Canopy Growth


Bruce Marshall & Jeremy A. Roberts


Sheffield Academic Press

Publication Date


First Page


Last Page



Disturbance plays a significant role in the formation and persistence of plant communities. This ubiquitous and important process affects community succession (Shugart and West, 1980; Shugart 1984), composition (White, 1979), stability (van der Maarel, 1993; Lertzman, 1992) and biodiversity (Kohyama, 1993; Sole and Manrubia, 1995). Functioning as a process of canopy renewal, disturbance permits regeneration of species (Watt, 1947) shifts in species composition (Veblen, 1985) and spatial and temporal coexistence of species (Fox, 1977; Rebertus and Veblen, 1993). Within plant communities, disturbance refers to a disruption of portions of the community that changes resource availability (Pickett and White, 1985). Often, disturbance manifests itself in the plant community as a gap or patch, where foliage or even whole plants are removed or die. Typically, the resulting gaps are characterised by a difference in the level of light penetration from that of the surrounding vegetation but other environmental conditions can also be altered. Canopy gap formation and subsequent recovery can be the predominant process in plant community dynamics (van der Maarel, 1996). This chapter considers canopy turnover in the context of canopy gap dynamics and the response of plants to these transient spatial opportunities. A presentation of dynamic gap models follows the discussion, with reference to their utility in assessing community dynamics and climatic changes in forests.


Originally published by Sheffield Academic Press. Limited preview available through remote link.