A ruderal species is a plant species that is first to colonize disturbed lands. The disturbance may be natural – for example, wildfires or avalanches – or a consequence of human activity, such as construction (of roads, of buildings, mining, etc) or agriculture (abandoned fields, irrigation, etc).
Ruderal species typically dominate the disturbed area for a few years, gradually losing the competition to other native species. However, in extreme disturbance circumstances, such as when the natural topsoil is covered with a foreign substance, a single-species ruderal community may become permanently established, as depicted in the image on the right. In addition, some ruderal invasive species may have such a competitive advantage over the native species that they, too, may permanently prevent a disturbed area from returning to its original state despite natural topsoil.
Features contributing to a species' success as ruderal are:
- Massive seed production.
- Seedlings whose nutritional requirements are modest.
- Fast-growing roots.
- Independence of mycorrhizae.
- Edge effect
- Restoration ecology
- Pioneer species
- Supertramp (ecology)
- Examples of ruderal species:
- St. John TV. 1987. SOIL DISTURBANCE AND THE MINERAL NUTRITION OF NATIVE PLANTS in Proceedings of the 2nd Native Plant Revegetation Symposium
- Chapin. FS. III. 1980. The mineral nutrition of wild plants. Ann. Rev. Ecol. System, 11:233-260.
- Ruderal in the 1911 Britannica
- Media related to Ruderal communities at Wikimedia Commons