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Primary and Secondary Succession

Primary and Secondary Succession

Succession is an ecological theory that explains how vegetation or biological communities regenerate following disturbances resulting from natural or human activities. Therefore, succession can be described as a species change based on richness, composition, density, cover, and diversity. Patterns of succession vary across the disturbance severity gradient, that is, the primary and secondary sites. Understanding these differences helps us understand how the severity of disturbances affects vegetation and how vegetation recovers from adversities. Studying these patterns is also crucial in determining whether plant communities follow a specific recovery route after disturbance (Chang & Turner, 2019).

Primary Succession

Primary succession involves vegetation development on newly formed substrates, usually characterized by low fertility. Primary sites lack biological history (previous vegetation), organic matter, and seed banks. Consequently, seeds or spores of the new colonizing organisms must migrate to the site through various seed dispersion methods. Further, during the early stages of primary succession, the growth rate is slow due to stressful conditions such as infertility. Additionally, vegetation relies on positive interactions with the neighboring communities for survival (Cutler et al., 2008). An example of primary succession is illustrated by vegetation development following a volcanic eruption, like in the lava domes on Terceira (Azores) (Elias & Dias, 2004).

Secondary Succession

Secondary succession is a feedback mechanism between the environment and plant communities. Community dynamics: vegetation’s growth and survival, biotic interactions, and population mechanisms are usually affected by environmental factors. In turn, aspects of the vegetation modify the structure and conditions of the environment, thus determining when and which organisms can regenerate. In addition, secondary succession occurs in environments- primary succession sites- that have been severely disturbed. This implies that these sites are characterized by a biological legacy, soil (an existing substrate), fertility, and seed banks. An example of secondary succession can be illustrated by the growth of secondary vegetation after the fire in Borneo forest, Malaysia, Southeast Asia (Nykvist, 1996).


Chang, C., & Turner, B. (2019). Ecological Succession in a Changing World. Journal of Ecology107(2), 503-509.

Cutler, N., Belyea, L., & Dugmore, A. (2008). The Spatiotemporal Dynamics of a Primary Succession. Journal of Ecology96(2), 222.

Elias, R., & Dias, E. (2004). Primary succession on lava domes on Terceira (Azores). Journal of Vegetation Science15(3), 337.

Nykvist, N. (1996). Regrowth of Secondary Vegetation after the ‘Borneo fire’ of 1982–1983. Journal of Tropical Ecology12(2), 307-312.


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Primary and Secondary Succession

Primary and Secondary Succession

Plant communities change over time.

What is the difference between primary and secondary succession?
Provide an example of a place that is or has undergone primary succession.
Provide an example of a place that is in or has undergone secondary succession.

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