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Ecological Succession

The Psammosere
Morfa harlech sand Dune

Morfa Harlech Dunes,

North West Wales

Morfa Harlech was first notified

as an SSSI in 1953 and has
subsequently been revised
(CCW ref. 31WNT). It is
1536ha in extent. It was
designated as a combined
biological and geomorphological
site. An extensive area of estuary
mudflats, saltmarshes, sand
dunes and dune grassland, all of
considerable biological value.
Morfa Harlech is an important
site for geomorphology studies.
It comprises a major cuspate
foreland in which the alignment
of a sand beach and dunes at an
acute angle to former cliffs has
encouraged extensive

Ecological Succession

Some more definitions.

Abiotic factors Non-living influences upon

the environment
e.g. climatic factors.
Biotic Factors Influences upon the
environment arising from living organisms
e.g. burrowing rabbits.

Ecological Succession

Grime (1979) suggested 3 types of plant involved in succession.

Ruderal plants suited to:

Frequent disturbance
(Opportunist Species) No competition

Competitive plants suited to:

Low stress

Stress Tolerant plants suited to: Low Disturbance

High Stress


Low Disturbance


The Sand Dune Ecosystem



Embryo Dunes

Sand continually moves around the beach, it

needs an obstruction such as driftwood to
break the force of the wind and allow sand to
Embryo dunes will begin to form.
They can grow to a height of 1m.

Marram grass
Marram grass is a xerophytic plant, meaning that it is a plant that is
adapted to living in a dry arid habitat. Therefore it is most likely to be
found on sand dunes, where the water is minimal and also where,
closer to the shore (if the sand dunes are by the sea), there is a higher
salt content, lowering the water potential. Marram grass has many
adaptations to living in the sand dunes, for example its leaf blades
curve with the stomata on the inside, to reduce evaporation due to heat
or wind (transpiration), also this provides a moist microclimate around
the stomata (ref. Biozone international). Marram grass blades also
have leaf hairs, which hold moist air around the leaf to prevent
evaporation. Marram grass has an extensive root system to gain as
much water as possible from the water deficient habitat. Furthermore
Marram grass has a thick waxy cuticle, reducing water loss by
evaporation and also, because it is shiny, reflects some of the heat.

Fore Dunes

The first colonising plants (or ruderal plants)

are lyme grass, sea couch and marram grass.
All are drought resistant and capable of
withstanding burial by shifting sand.
These species will trap more sand.
pH Alkaline of around pH 8.5.
The Fore Dunes will reach around 5m in

Elytrigia atherica
(Link) Kerguelen
ex Carreras
Mart. (Sea

Lyme Grass

Yellow Dunes

Stable conditions allow a greater diversity of

plant species.
As plants die and decay a humus layer builds
up trapping water and nutrients.
Marram grass is still the dominant plant
80% of the dune is covered in now vegetated.
Rabbits may be seen
The Fore dunes can be 5 10m high.

Grey Dunes

Even greater stability, 50 100m from the sea.

Vegetation cover may reach 100% as mosses
and lichens fill any gaps in the vegetation.
Some small shrubs (brambles, gorse,
buckthorn Competitor Species) appear for
the first time due to sheltered conditions.
Water content is low and plants need spreading
root systems.
Dune height will be over 10m in height.

Dune Slacks

Dune slacks are found between more mature

The water table may reach the surface leading
to permanent waterlogging and surface water.
Specially adapted species such as rushes,
sedge, cotton grass or creeping willow may
A peaty soil may develop.

Mature Dunes

The most mature dunes are found several

hundred meters from the shore.
A soil will develop which can support shrubs
and trees such as hawthorn, ash and birch.
Eventually a climax community of Oak (Stress
Tolerant) will develop.
Plant species diversity will fall.
pH falls to around pH 4.

Sand dunes at risk

Sand dunes are fragile ecosystems

Humans traipsing across the dunes can create
small paths, reducing vegetation cover, leading
to creation of gullies.
Rabbits can burrow into the dunes
Wind action on these gullies can lead to
Up to 50% of the dune may be lost.

Managing Sand Dunes

Dunes will eventually have to be protected by the

local authority.
Ecologically important areas maybe fenced off, so
that damage is confined to specific areas.
Beach access could be confined to fenced off
Information boards could be used to educate tourists.
Blowouts can be repaired by trapping loose material
with barriers such as old christmas trees.
These barriers are unsightly but will eventually be
covered up as vegetation re-establishes itself.

A very useful video for you to watch. It has

questions and things for you to think about.


Abiotic vs biotic influencing factors.

Ruderal, Competitive, Stress Tolerant species.
The sand dune ecosystem case study Morfa
Harlech, NE Wales.
Managing the sand dune ecosystem.