Primary Succession

Abstract

Primary succession is the assembly of ecosystems on barren landscapes following severe disturbances that leave little or no biological legacy (lava flows, landslides and mine wastes). The assembly process involves colonisation of newly exposed substrates and subsequent interactions among the colonising plants, animals and soil microbes. Successional trajectories of sequential community replacement then develop, but some may diverge from nearby trajectories, making succession a challenging process to predict. Understanding how plant, animal and microbial communities develop under such extreme conditions is essential for restoration of damaged lands, as restoration is fundamentally the manipulation of successional trajectories by humans. Successional studies also provide insights into loss of biodiversity, climate change and the influences of invasive species on community dynamics.

Key Concepts:

  • Primary succession is the process of assembly of ecosystems on barren landscapes following severe disturbances that leave little biological legacy.

  • Primary succession is difficult to predict because it is the net result of many interacting processes including dispersal, colonisation, species interactions and biotic responses to on‐going disturbances.

  • Restoration is the attempt to manipulate succession and what is known about primary succession can be applied to the amelioration of severely disturbed habitats.

  • Primary succession provides insights into biodiversity loss, climate change and the influences of invasive species.

Keywords: colonisation; community assembly; disturbance regime; soil development; species interactions; restoration

Figure 1.

A 6‐month‐old landslide in the tropical rainforest of the Luquillo Experimental Forest in Puerto Rico. Photo by Lawrence R Walker.

close

References

Anderson KJ (2007) Temporal patterns in rates of community change during succession. The American Naturalist 169: 780–793.

Bardgett R (2005) The Biology of Soil: A Community and Ecosystem Approach. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Bishop JG, O'Hara NB, Titus JH et al. (2010) N–P co‐limitation of primary production and response of arthropods to N and P in early primary succession on Mount St. Helens volcano. PLoS ONE 5: e13598.

Callaway RM and Walker LR (1997) Competition and facilitation: a synthetic approach to interactions in plant communities. Ecology 78: 1958–1965.

Clements FE (1928) Plant Succession and Indicators. New York: Wilson.

Conant RT, Ogle SM, Paul EA et al. (2011) Measuring and monitoring soil organic carbon stocks in agricultural lands for climatic mitigation. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 9: 169–173.

Connell JH and Slatyer RO (1977) Mechanisms of succession in natural communities and their role in community stability and organization. The American Naturalist 111: 1119–1144.

Crews T, Kitayama K, Fownes J et al. (1995) Changes in soil phosphorus fractions and ecosystem dynamics across a long chronosequence in Hawaii. Ecology 76: 1407–1424.

Gibson DJ, Ely JS and Looney PB (1997) A Markovian approach to modeling succession on a coastal barrier island following beach nourishment. Journal of Coastal Research 13: 831–841.

Glenn‐Lewin D, Peet RK and Veblen TT (eds) (1992) Plant Succession: Theory and Prediction. London: Chapman and Hall.

Hobbs RJ, Arico S, Aronson J et al. (2006) Novel ecosystems: theoretical and management aspects of the new ecological world order. Global Ecology and Biogeography 15: 1–7.

Isbell FI, Polley HW and Wilsey BJ (2009) Species interaction mechanisms maintain grassland plant species diversity. Ecology 90: 1821–1830.

Johnson EA and Miyanishi K (2008) Testing the assumptions of chronosequences in succession. Ecology Letters 11: 419–431.

Karlsen SR and Elvebakk A (2003) A method using indicator plants to map local climatic variation in the Kangerlussuaq/Scoresby Sund area, East Greenland. Journal of Biogeography 30: 1469–1491.

Lanta V and Lepš J (2009) How does surrounding vegetation affect the course of succession: a five‐year container experiment. Journal of Vegetation Science 20: 686–694.

Lepš J and Rejmánek M (1991) Convergence or divergence: what should we expect from vegetation succession? Oikos 62: 261–264.

Marleau JN, Jin Y, Bishop JG et al. (2011) A stoichiometric model of early plant primary succession. The American Naturalist 177: 233–245.

Marteinsdottir B, Svavarsdottir K and Thorhallsdottir TE (2010) Development of vegetation patterns in early primary succession. Journal of Vegetation Science 21: 531–540.

Matthews JA (1992) The Ecology of Recently De‐glaciated Terrain. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

McIntosh RP (1985) The Background of Ecology: Concept and Theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Meiners SJ, Rye TA and Klass JR (2007) On a level field: the utility of studying native and non‐native species in successional systems. Applied Vegetation Science 12: 45–53.

Miles J and Walton DWH (eds) (1993) Primary Succession on Land. London: Blackwell.

del Moral R (2007) Limits to convergence of vegetation during early primary succession. Journal of Vegetation Science 18: 479–488.

del Moral R and Eckert AJ (2005) Colonization of volcanic deserts from productive patches. American Journal of Botany 92: 27–26.

del Moral R and Grishin SY (1999) Volcanic disturbances and ecosystem recovery. In: Walker LR (ed.) Ecosystems of Disturbed Ground. Ecosystems of the World 16, pp. 137–160. Amsterdam: Elsevier.

del Moral R, Sandler JE and Muerdter CP (2009) Spatial factors affect primary succession on the Muddy River Lahar, Mount St. Helens, Washington. Plant Ecology 201: 177–190.

del Moral R, Walker LR and Bakker JP (2007) Insights gained from succession for the restoration of landscape structure and function. In: Walker LR, Walker J and Hobbs RJ (eds) Linking Restoration and Ecological Succession, pp. 19–44. New York: Springer.

del Moral R, Saura JM and Emenegger JN (2010) Primary succession trajectories on a barren plain, Mount St. Helens, Washington. Journal of Vegetation Science 21: 857–867.

Odum EP (1969) The strategy of ecosystem development. Science 164: 262–270.

Ohtonen R, Fritze H, Pennanen T et al. (1999) Ecosystem properties and microbial community changes in primary succession on a glacier forefront. Oecologia 119: 239–246.

Parmesan C (2006) Ecological and evolutionary responses to recent climate change. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics 37: 637–669.

Peltzer DA, Wardle DA, Allison VJ et al. (2010) Understanding ecosystem retrogression. Ecological Monographs 80: 509–529.

Pickett STA and White PS (1985) The Ecology of Natural Disturbance and Patch Dynamics. New York: Academic Press.

Pimentel D, Harvey C, Resosudarmo P et al. (1995) Soil erosion estimates and costs. Science 269: 463–465.

Prach K and Walker LR (2011) Four opportunities for studies of ecological succession. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 26: 119–123.

Prach K, Kosnař J, Klimešová J et al. (2010) High arctic vegetation after 70 years: a repeated analysis from Svalbard. Polar Biology 33: 635–639.

Smith SD, Huxman TE, Zitzer SF et al. (2000) Elevated CO2 increases productivity and invasive species success in an arid ecosystem. Nature 408: 79–82.

Suding KN and Hobbs RJ (2009) Models of ecosystem dynamics as frameworks for restoration ecology. In: Hobbs RJ and Suding KN (eds) New Models for Ecosystem Dynamics and Restoration, pp. 3–21. Washington, DC: Island Press.

Vellak A, Tuvi E‐L, Reier Ü et al. (2009) Past and present effectiveness of protected areas for conservation of naturally and anthropogenically rare plant species. Conservation Biology 23: 750–757.

Walker LR (1993) Nitrogen fixers and species replacements in primary succession. In: Miles J and Walton DWH (eds) Primary Succession on Land, pp. 249–272. London: Blackwell.

Walker LR (in press) Biology of Disturbed Habitats. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Walker LR (1999) Patterns and processes in primary succession. In: Walker LR (ed.) Ecosystems of Disturbed Ground. Ecosystems of the World 16, pp. 585–610. Amsterdam: Elsevier.

Walker LR, Clarkson BD, Silvester WB et al. (2003) Colonization dynamics and facilitative impacts of a nitrogen‐fixing shrub in primary succession. Journal of Vegetation Science 14: 277–290.

Walker LR and del Moral R (2003) Primary Succession and Ecosystem Rehabilitation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Walker LR and del Moral R (2009) Transition dynamics in succession: implications for rates, trajectories, and restoration. In: Hobbs RJ and Suding KN (eds) New Models for Ecosystem Dynamics and Restoration, pp. 33–49. Washington, DC: Island Press.

Walker LR, Walker J and Hobbs RJ (eds) (2007) Linking Restoration and Ecological Succession. New York: Springer.

Walker LR, Wardle DA, Bardgett RD et al. (2010) The use of chronosequences in studies of ecological succession and soil development. Journal of Ecology 98: 725–736.

Wardle DA, Bonner KI, Barker GM et al. (1999) Plant removals in perennial grassland: vegetation dynamics, decomposers, soil biodiversity and ecosystem properties. Ecological Monographs 69: 535–568.

Wardle DA, Walker LR and Bardgett RD (2004) Ecosystem properties and forest decline in contrasting long‐term chronosequences. Science 305: 509–513.

Willig MR and Walker LR (1999) Disturbance in terrestrial ecosystems: salient themes, synthesis, and future directions. In: Walker LR (ed.) Ecosystems of Disturbed Ground. Ecosystems of the World 16, pp. 747–767. Amsterdam: Elsevier.

Yurkonis KA, Meiners SJ and Wachholder BE (2005) Invasion impacts diversity through altered community dynamics. Journal of Ecology 93: 1053–1061.

Further Reading

Burrows CJ (1990) Processes of Vegetation Change. London: Unwin Hyman.

Gleason HA (1937) The individualistic concept of the plant association. American Midland Naturalist 21: 92–110.

Hobbs RJ and Saunders DA (eds) (1993) Reintegrating Fragmented Landscapes. Towards Sustainable Production and Conservation. New York: Springer.

Hobbs RJ and Suding KN (eds) (2009) New Models for Ecosystem Dynamics and Restoration. Washington, DC: Island Press.

Johnson EA and Miyanishi K (2007) Plant Disturbance Ecology: The Process and the Response. Amsterdam: Academic Press.

Luken JO (1990) Directing Ecological Succession. London: Chapman and Hall.

del Moral R and Walker LR (2007) Environmental Disasters, Natural Recovery and Human Responses. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Tilman D (1988) Plant Strategies and the Dynamics and Structure of Plant Communities. Princeton, NJ, USA: Princeton University Press.

Contact Editor close
Submit a note to the editor about this article by filling in the form below.

* Required Field

How to Cite close
Walker, Lawrence R, and del Moral, Roger(Aug 2011) Primary Succession. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. http://www.els.net [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0003181.pub2]