For other uses, see Ecotone (disambiguation).
Reed beds are a common form of lakeside ecotone. The beds tend to accumulate organic matter which is then colonised by trees, forcing the reeds further in to the lake.
Fig.1 & 2 show simple ecotones with equal and homogeneous surfaces in both cases. Fig.3 shows an inclusion of each medium in the other, creating multiple ecotones, which are shown in a more complex form in figure 4. Fig. 5 & 6 show the edges of forests or banks treated in such a way as to lengthen the ecotone considerably without excessively modifying the environment. Fig.7 shows a common interpenetration of media (such as that found at the edge of a forest). Fig.8 shows an ecotone that could have been formed by an animal modifying its environment.

An ecotone is a transition area between two biomes.[1] It is where two communities meet and integrate.[2] It may be narrow or wide, and it may be local (the zone between a field and forest) or regional (the transition between forest and grassland ecosystems).[3] An ecotone may appear on the ground as a gradual blending of the two communities across a broad area, or it may manifest itself as a sharp boundary line.

The word ecotone was coined from a combination of eco(logy) plus -tone, from the Greek tonos or tension in other words, a place where ecologies are in tension.


There are several distinguishing features of an ecotone. First, an ecotone can have a sharp vegetation transition, with a distinct line between two communities. For example, a change in colors of grasses or plant life can indicate an ecotone. Second, a change in physiognomy (physical appearance of a plant species) can be a key indicator. Scientists look at color variations and changes in plant height. Third, a change of species can signal an ecotone. There will be specific organisms on one side of an ecotone or the other.

Other factors can illustrate or obscure an ecotone, for example, migration and the establishment of new plants. These are known as spatial mass effects, which are noticeable because some organisms will not be able to form self-sustaining populations if they cross the ecotone. If different species can survive in both communities of the two biomes, then the ecotone is considered to have species richness; biologists measure this when studying the food chain and success of organisms. Lastly, the abundance of exotic species in an ecotone can reveal the type of biome or efficiency of the two communities sharing space.[4] Because an ecotone is the zone in which two communities integrate, many different forms of life have to live together and compete for space. Therefore, an ecotone can create a diverse ecosystem.


Changes in the physical environment may produce a sharp boundary, as in the example of the interface between areas of forest and cleared land. Elsewhere, a more gradually blended interface area will be found, where species from each community will be found together as well as unique local species. Mountain ranges often create such ecotones, due to the wide variety of climatic conditions experienced on their slopes. They may also provide a boundary between species due to the obstructive nature of their terrain. Mont Ventoux in France is a good example, marking the boundary between the flora and fauna of northern and southern France. Most wetlands are ecotones.

Plants in competition extend themselves on one side of the ecotone as far as their ability to maintain themselves allows. Beyond this competitors of the adjacent community take over. As a result, the ecotone represents a shift in dominance. Ecotones are particularly significant for mobile animals, as they can exploit more than one set of habitats within a short distance. The ecotone contains not only species common to the communities on both sides; it may also include a number of highly adaptable species that tend to colonize such transitional areas.[3] The phenomenon of increased variety of plants as well as animals at the community junction is called the edge effect and is essentially due to a locally broader range of suitable environmental conditions or ecological niches.

Ecotones and ecoclines

An ecotone is often associated with an ecocline: a "physical transition zone" between two systems. The ecotone and ecocline concepts are sometimes confused: an ecocline can signal an ecotone chemically (ex: pH or salinity gradient), or microclimatically (hydrothermal gradient) between two ecosystems.

In contrast:


See also


  1. Senft, Amanda (2009). Species Diversity Patterns at Ecotones (Master's thesis). University of North Carolina.
  2. Pearl, Solomon Eldra; Berg, Linda R.; Martin, Diana W. (2011). Biology. Belmont, California: Brooks/Cole.
  3. 1 2 Smith, Robert Leo (1974). Ecology and Field Biology (2nd ed.). Harper & Row. p. 251. ISBN 0-06-500976-2.
  4. Walker, Susan; Wilson, J. Bastow; Steel, John B.; Rapson, G. L.; Smith, Benjamin; King, Warren McG.; Cottam, Yvette H. (2003). "Properties of Ecotones: Evidence From Five Ecotones Objectively Determined From A Coastal Vegetation Gradient". Journal of Vegetation Science. 14 (4): 579–590. doi:10.1111/j.1654-1103.2003.tb02185.x.
  5. 1 2 Smith, D. R. (2011). "4. Asian Honeybees and Mitochondrial DNA". In Hepburn, H.Randall; Radloff, Sarah E. Honeybees of Asia. Springer. p. 75. ISBN 978-3-642-16421-7.
  6. 1 2 Hughes, Jennifer B.; Round, Philip D.; Woodruff, David S. (April 2003). "The Indochinese–Sundaic faunal transition at the Isthmus of Kra: an analysis of resident forest bird species distributions" (PDF). Journal of Biogeography. 30 (4): 569–580. doi:10.1046/j.1365-2699.2003.00847.x.
  7. Theeraapisakkun, M.; Klinbunga, S.; Sittipraneed, S. (May 2010). "Development of a species-diagnostic marker and its application for population genetics studies of the stingless bee Trigona collina in Thailand" (PDF). Genetics and Molecular Research. 9 (2): 919–930. doi:10.4238/vol9-2gmr775. PMID 20486087.
  8. Steve Nadis (11 June 2016). "Life on the edge". New Scientist.

External links

Look up ecotone in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
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