Succession





Succession 2811
Photo by: Galina Barskaya

Succession is a process of ecological change in which a series of natural communities are established and then replaced over time. Ecologists (scientists who study the relationships of organisms with their living and nonliving environment) generally recognize two kinds of succession, primary succession and secondary succession. Primary succession takes place on an area that is originally completely empty of life. As an example, an area that has been covered by a flow of lava has, for a time, no life at all on it. Over a period of time, however, various kinds of organisms begin to grow in the area. Over time, the variety of life-forms changes as succession continues.

Secondary succession is far more common. It occurs in an area where life once existed but has then been destroyed. For example, imagine a forest that has been destroyed by a wildfire. Again, for a period of time, no living organisms may exist in the area. Before long, however, certain types of plants begin to reappear. And, as with primary succession, the nature of the plant communities gradually change over time.

The stages in ecological succession

The changes that take place during any form of succession depend on a variety of environmental factors, such as the amount of moisture, temperature, and wind. One possible scenario for primary succession might begin with the appearance of simple plants, such as lichens and mosses. Such plants are able to spring up in tiny cracks in the rocks in which water and dissolved minerals collect.

When these pioneer plants die, they decompose and begin to form soil in which other, more complex plants can begin to grow. The second stage of plants might consists of grasses, herbs, and small shrubs. A characteristic of these plants is that they devote a great deal of energy producing huge numbers of seeds. They may live only one year, and spend the greatest part of their energy to ensuring that offspring will arise the following year. Species of this kind are known as opportunist species. Grasses are a common example of opportunist species.

Plants that make up the early stages of succession also die, decompose, and contribute to the growing layer of soil. This process takes place over hundreds or thousands of years, however. Eventually, the soil is able to support more complex plants, such as larger shrubs and small trees including aspen, black spruce, and jack pine. These plants gradually take over from earlier communities since they are taller, have more leaves, and can capture more sunlight that was originally captured by simpler plants.

In the final stages of succession, taller trees begin to grow. They, in turn, block out the sunlight needed by smaller trees and replace them. The final stage of ecological succession is known as a climax community. A climax community in the scenario outlined here might consist of birch, white spruce, and balsam fir.

Secondary succession

The general trends that take place during secondary succession are similar to those for primary succession. Imagine that a forest has been cleared for agriculture and then abandoned at a later date. In this case, a pioneer community consisting of lichens and mosses is not needed. Soil, rich or not, is already available.

In such a case, the first plants to reappear might be annual (living one year) weeds, such as crabgrass. At a somewhat later date, the weedy community might be replaced by perennial (those that live year after year) weeds, and then by shrubs, a pine forest, and finally a mature forest consisting of oaks, maples, elms, and other large, long-living trees.

Words to Know

Climax community: A relatively stable ecosystem characterized by large, old trees that marks the last stage of ecological succession.

Ecosystem: An ecological community, including plants, animals, and microorganisms, considered together with their environment.

Opportunist species: Plant species with short life-spans that devote most of their energy to producing seeds.

Pioneer plants/communities: Plants or communities that are the first to be established in an area previously empty of life.

Primary succession: Succession that takes place on an area that was originally completely empty of life.

Secondary succession: Succession that occurs in an area where life once existed but has then been destroyed.

As succession goes forward, the nature of plant communities changes significantly. Instead of sending out many seeds each year, as in a pioneer community, trees in more mature communities devote their energies to sending out roots, branches, leaves, and other structures. Indeed, as they grow larger and create more shade, they actually prevent the germination (first life stages) and growth of their own seeds and seedlings.

Climax community

Ecologists refer to the final, highest stage of ecological development in an area as the area's climax community. That terms refers to a relatively stable community that is environmentally balanced. Climax communities are more a theoretical than a real concept. Certainly it is possible to recognize in old-growth communities areas that change relatively slowly compared to the earlier, more dynamic stages of succession.

Illustration of (1) a climax forest (2) destroyed by wildfire and (3 and 4) its eventual recovery. Secondary succession occurs in an area where life once existed but has then been destroyed. (Reproduced by permission of The Gale Group.)
Illustration of (1) a climax forest (2) destroyed by wildfire and (3 and 4) its eventual recovery. Secondary succession occurs in an area where life once existed but has then been destroyed. (Reproduced by permission of
The Gale Group
.)

However, change in ecological communities is a universal phenomenon. Thus, even the climax state cannot be regarded as static.

For example, even in old-growth communities succession on a small scale is always occurring. That succession may involve the death of individual trees and the growth of new ones. As environmental conditions change, even climax communities themselves continue to evolve.



User Contributions:

Asamoah Benjamin
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Oct 10, 2007 @ 3:15 pm
DURING EVERY STAGE IN SUCESSION, THE MICRO-CLIMATE OF THE AREA IS ALTERED BY THE PLANT SPP. THE TYPE OF PLANTS IN THE CLIMIX COMUNITY IS HOWEVER DETERMINED BY THE CLIMATIC CONDITION OF THE ECCOSYSTEM
vicki
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May 17, 2008 @ 3:15 pm
this info really helped me writing a biology paper, it was a useful site.
Mara
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May 27, 2008 @ 2:14 pm
I think that this is a very useful site. The article was wonderful. I would like to see more oeople on this site for school projects and things like that.
kharene
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Aug 21, 2008 @ 1:01 am
tHIS WEBSITE IS A BIG HELP TO STUDENTS LIKE ME BECAUSE ALMOST ALL THE THINGS I WANT TO KNOW ABOUT ECOLOGICAL SUCCESSION IS HERE..
Boris
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Aug 28, 2008 @ 9:09 am
...THis site contributes to my studies and perhaps, as a sign of thanksgiving I would like to say Thank you. I am taking Human biology and this really help me with my subject ecology especially, the ecological succession. tnks hope that more topics would come...
eleanor H
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Aug 31, 2008 @ 6:06 am
i learned a lot from this site and it was very useful for my report. keep it up! more power!!! LOL
Kinyua Mwangi
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Oct 6, 2008 @ 4:04 am
the article is quite informative and i say a big thank you.
Gabrielle
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Oct 27, 2008 @ 10:22 pm
I am constructing a power point for VCE biology on this topic and this site has been incredibly helpful!
Simplistic and easy to understand.

Thanks again!
Savanna
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Dec 9, 2008 @ 4:16 pm
Thank God for this page! My Biology final is tomorrow, and I really needed this information.
Theresa T
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Dec 15, 2008 @ 11:11 am
This is clear and simple
very user friendly and contains loads of useful precise information.
thanks
Kristina
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Dec 15, 2008 @ 7:19 pm
this site helped me get an A+ on my science project
Anagha
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Jan 20, 2009 @ 3:03 am
This information is really useful to explain the concept of succession to Enginnering students studying environmental studies,further more pictures will make the article easy for students
Hannah
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Mar 11, 2009 @ 8:20 pm
awesome. i needed a diagram and u were the only website that had info. and pictures. thank you thank you thank you
Charlie
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Apr 27, 2009 @ 10:10 am
Thanks for the info It was very useful! Finally I understood this topic.. :)
Patrick
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May 27, 2009 @ 7:19 pm
Very helpful for study right before final exams. Thank you!
DrumHead195
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May 31, 2009 @ 7:19 pm
this site was very helpful on the night before my science test!
mili
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Jun 7, 2009 @ 8:08 am
thank you soo much! it helps alot, i wouldnt be able to finish my assignment without this web page!
again, thanks alot!
Fortune
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Jun 18, 2009 @ 4:16 pm
am so very grateful cos this website had helped me alot.keep up.chao
yssa
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Jul 23, 2009 @ 8:08 am
thanks for the info.! it really helped me a lot! :)
Roldan Regor I. Medina
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Aug 2, 2009 @ 6:06 am
I'm an 4th year education student at the national teachers college major in biology and I'm currently having my OJT. The assigned topic for me is all about ecological succession. I have read one of the books in environmental science and based on that book primary succession usually occurs in a bare and lifeless substrate such as rock or open water. Since the author of the book is a doctor of philosophy I confidently rely on her ideas. I taught it to my students then my critique teacher told me that my concept about primary succession was wrong and fallible. However, I'M VERY GLAD THAT YOU HAVE THIS KIND OF site thus I was able to understand the authentic concept about succession. thank you
Tanesha
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Aug 11, 2009 @ 3:15 pm
in indeed this web site does works it has helped me to complete undone course works. it has also helped me to be more knowledgeable about the environment. thank you
shantonu roy
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Aug 17, 2009 @ 4:04 am
pioneer species has lowest ecological biodiversity and niche specialization
but climax species has highest biodiversity and niche specialization
tumisho
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Aug 24, 2009 @ 9:09 am
its really beneficial considering that i am doing nature conservation,since i am doing ecology it came in handy in boosting my knowledge
alyssa nicole
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Sep 2, 2009 @ 8:08 am
this was very cool!! got a lot of infos !!! this would be our next topic on biology II well, this was very useful for me as an introduction and i already know what this ecological succession is really all about!! thanks!!
Emma
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Sep 6, 2009 @ 2:14 pm
I agree a very useful site, clear but with enough detail but also seems to be trustworthy and written by people for actually know what they are talking about, which is always a good thing to look for when using sites on the internet.
hanna
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Sep 16, 2009 @ 8:08 am
thnx for the info...now i undertsand clearly about "ES".this will help me to explain my report to the class..
redge
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Sep 20, 2009 @ 11:23 pm
This helps a lot. Thank you so much:)It is very useful and I learn more about this topic.
fellow student
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Oct 7, 2009 @ 12:12 pm
This is some great info for my ecology class. !!!!!!!!!!
Nobuhle Sokhulu
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Oct 13, 2009 @ 1:01 am
this article helped me prepare for my test, and i passed....Thanks a thousand times
gogogaga
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Jan 19, 2010 @ 4:16 pm
this helped me pass my bio, environmental science, and ecology final! thanks so much, wow it was the best!
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Apr 20, 2010 @ 4:16 pm
thank you thank you so much! this site is amazingly helpful, and i really needed this article for my current event in science! one more time--THANK YOU! ^_^
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May 17, 2010 @ 7:19 pm
the site was very helpful on my science project that is due later this week.
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Sep 22, 2010 @ 7:07 am
it was a very interesting article and the concepts have been discusted in a very clear way!! thanks!
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Sep 24, 2010 @ 6:06 am
what is characteristic of Ecological succession. what is process of carbon cycle in water
Isis Coran
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Dec 13, 2010 @ 11:23 pm
I believe that this article is great when it comes to explaining what succession is, but i think it lack info when it comes to describing the steps of succession.
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Mar 20, 2011 @ 1:13 pm
describle in details the ecosystem development in britain and ldentifying in logical order the associated plants and animals at each stage and habitat
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Mar 25, 2011 @ 9:09 am
this helped alot onhow climate works showing how short plants lifes are its wonderful to learn about science!! :D
fred
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May 31, 2011 @ 9:09 am
THANK YOU GUYS FOR THIS WOUNDERFUL SOURCE OF INFORMATION. IT IS INDEED USEFUL!
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Jun 7, 2011 @ 3:03 am
this imformation will can help me to have an idea and many student in TERESA NATIONAL HIGH SCHOOL
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Jun 8, 2011 @ 5:05 am
THANK YOU FOR THE INFORMATION i learned many in this site thank you..
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Jul 10, 2011 @ 7:07 am
can you enumerate the stages of succession??

i cant get it!
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Jul 14, 2011 @ 6:06 am
thanks 4 the information!!!
can u pls. enumerate the different
types of ECOLOGICAL SUCCESSOIN !!!
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Sep 29, 2011 @ 3:03 am
can u pls answer my question?
and display it here?

Does ecological succession ever stop?

pls answer it quickly i need now the answer
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Oct 23, 2011 @ 12:00 am
Am greatful 4 ths information, it realy helped me in writing my term paper. Thanks 4 providing me wt d information tht i need
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Oct 31, 2011 @ 8:08 am
the site i very important for biology teachers also. Thank you.
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Nov 15, 2011 @ 3:03 am
This website is good I learn lot conserning to ERM
arc
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Dec 1, 2011 @ 6:18 pm
can you please tell more about the major reason for pond succession i need help on my science homework!
shafaq
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Jan 3, 2012 @ 1:13 pm
this site is good.. keep it up.. and pls include more information regarding ecological succession. thanx..
Peep
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Feb 6, 2012 @ 9:21 pm
HI! Like the site. Thanks for the work you've done!
Some clarification - the term climax community is not really used anymore because succession never stops. There are more stable communities in later years than the first stages of any type of succession but there is no "end." It has been suggested that the reason climax communities were once considered is because when an area gets to the tree stage, the life span of the species in question are often beyond human life span. So what may appear as a fairly static system maybe undergoing change but so slowly that it is imperceptible to humans.
tashawna
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Feb 19, 2012 @ 1:13 pm
im so lost how is this suppose to help me with my homework
Sarah
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May 21, 2012 @ 5:17 pm
Hey you need to say something about the activities that promote primary and secondary succession and then explain why.
That would be helpful for people like me who came to your website because it said great for school projects, i wish more people would come to my site. Now I know why they dont come. You need more information!!

Thank you.
nina mae b. nabre
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Jun 23, 2012 @ 2:02 am
what are the names the 4 stages of ecological succession?... please name it one by one and how long that stage appear..
Allexa Venegas
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Sep 11, 2012 @ 12:00 am
does anyone know if the enviornment is the same or different from the original after primary succession?
kat-cl Bernadette
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Feb 27, 2013 @ 2:02 am
this webside has really helped in preparing my forestry and range ecology report, thanks. :-)
jf
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Mar 2, 2013 @ 4:16 pm
I still don't get it I need a kids web because all I read is poop. I don't speak a foreign language. I'm only 5.
Thing
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Apr 20, 2013 @ 12:12 pm
This website is awesome. I have a science project and looking at this website i got a lot of information. Thank you so much
Manzoor
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Aug 4, 2013 @ 12:12 pm
plz explain ecological succession in water..give some valuable definitions..
Olivia Husher
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Jan 30, 2014 @ 6:18 pm
Thanks for the information...it really helped me understand better
robia bapor
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Jun 22, 2014 @ 4:04 am
thank you so much...it helps me a lot with my report this coming wed.

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