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  Community (Latin, ‘association’), in ecology, is the term applied to all the organisms in a given environment or habitat, interacting with each other in such a way as to confer distinct characteristics which enable it to be qualitatively distinguished from other communities. The concept of the community is largely a convenience term used by ecologists to denote a biological system under study. No living community can truly be isolated from those which surround it—the community of an oak forest, for example, is composed of smaller communities which live on particular tree types, animal corpses and so on.

Each species in a community lives in its niche, a mode of life which is defined largely by other species within the community. Species interact with one another and individuals react with other members of their species. These interactions are studied principally in terms of energy flow and the factors which affect it: thus, predator/prey relationships and territorial behaviour are of interest to the ecologist, as is the flow of nutrients through the ecosystem. A biological community is not a closed system and is therefore not stable, though a dynamic equilibrium may often exist if environmental conditions permit. Environmental disturbance causes a shift in the equilibrium and the community returns to stability, or climax, by the process of succession. This phenomenon has been likened to the homeostatic control exhibited by individual organisms, and there is a school of thought which maintains that biological communities are complex organisms. (This holistic outlook is epitomized in James Lovelock\'s Gaia hypothesis, which suggests that the entire community of the biosphere acts as a single, complex organism.)

In sociology, community is one of the most elusive and vague terms in use. At the very least it refers to a set of relationships operating within certain boundaries, locations or territories. The term may also be used to refer to relations which do not operate in a clearly defined location, such as the ‘Gay community’. The term is often used in a prescriptive sense.

It is possible to distinguish three main uses of the term community within sociology: (1) it is described as a locality. (This closely approximates the geographers\' use of the term.); (2) it has also been used to denote a network of relationships, which can be characterized by conflict as well as mutuality; (3) it may refer to a particular type of relationship which has certain qualities. In this, its popular usage, it is associated with positive connotations, as ‘community spirit’. This is a romanticized view of ‘traditional society’ which has given rise to the concept of community with the associated features of cohesion, support and intimacy.

Whatever the difficulties of definition, communities all operate within boundaries or territories. Boundaries serve to demarcate membership from nonmembership. Some community boundaries are rigidly maintained—for example, some religious communities. Others are more fluid and open. DA RB

See also assimilation; biome; competition; culture; ethnicity; food web; race; sexuality; social integration; society; subculture; urbanism/urbanization.Further reading C. Bell and , H. Newby, Community Studies.



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