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Secondary Succession

Last updated date: 23rd May 2024
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Meaning of Succession

Succession can be defined as the change in composition, structure, or architecture of species and vegetation with respect to time. It can take place in all sorts of vegetation and converts one type of vegetation to another. It has subparts called primary and secondary succession. It is an important part of the biological changes happening day by day.

Examples of Succession

  • After ploughing a dirty field, someone left it in the summertime. During the summer season, weeds and wild bushes start growing on that field. After the growth of small weeds and grass, some shrubs start growing as well and take root in the land. After a few years, that area or the particular land becomes densely vegetated with trees growing on it.

  • Along the coast, a sand beach has small plants that spread their roots in the land. This makes the plants grow faster by providing them with nutrition. On the other hand, it also promotes soil fertility and leads to the growth of shrubs in that area. After a few years, this coast converts to a forest (because the trees take root in land with time).

Primary and Secondary Succession

Primary succession is the succession that can be defined as the process of growth of the community in the area that was previously inhabited, barren, unoccupied and there was no initial vegetation found. On other hand, secondary succession is the succession that can be defined as the growth of the community in such areas that were previously occupied, inhabited, and that have primary vegetation but got disturbed or impaired due to some external or internal factors. 

The example of primary sessions is the newly formed bare rocks, desert areas, and sand dunes, etc. whereas an example of secondary succession is the area covered under deforestation or affected by natural calamities such as floods, and earthquakes.

What is Secondary Succession?

Secondary succession is an ecological succession that comes about after the initial succession has been disrupted and some plants and animals still exist. The secondary succession is usually faster than the primary succession for the following reasons.

  • The soil is already present.

  • Seeds, roots, and underground vegetative organs may still exist in the soil.

Secondary Succession Examples

Some examples of secondary succession slides:

  • A classic example of human-induced secondary succession is an abandonment of cropland.

  • Fire

  • Oak and hickory forests cleared by wildfire is a renowned example of secondary succession.

Secondary Ecological Succession

The secondary session is one of the two types of ecological succession. In contrast to the primary succession, secondary succession definition states that it is the process started by an event (forest fire, harvesting, hurricane, etc) that minimizes an already settled ecosystem (i.e wheat field or a forest) to a smaller population of species, and as such secondary session occurs on already existing soil whereas primary succession occurs on a place lacking soil. The factors that occur in secondary succession are tropical interaction, initial composition, and competition colonization trade-offs. The factors that prevent an increase in an abundance of species during succession may be identified mainly by microclimate, seed production and dispersal, bulk density, ph, soil textures (sand and clay, etc.) 

Secondary Succession Stages

Following are the steps of secondary succession stages:

  • An area of growth.

  • A disturbance such as fire begins. 

  • The fire destroyed the vegetation.

  • The fire leaves behind empty but does not destroy the soil.

  • Grasses and other herbaceous plants grow back first.

  • Small bushes and trees started to colonize the public area.

  • Fastest growing evergreen tree and bamboo tree develops completely, while shade-tolerant trees develop in the understory.

  • The shorter-lived and shade-intolerant evergreen tree dies as the large deciduous trees overtop them. This ecosystem is not back to the stage where it started. 

Secondary Succession Pioneer Species

Secondary succession occurs in formerly inhabited areas that were disturbed.  The disturbance could be fire, flood, or human activities such as farming. This type of succession is rapid because the soil is already in place. The pioneer species in secondary succession are plants such as grasses, birch trees, and fireweed. Organic matters from secondary succession pioneer species improve the soil. This enables other plants to move into the areas. 

In the above secondary succession figure, two months after a forest fire, the plants that are new are already sprouting or budding the charred logs.

What is Primary Succession?

Primary succession is defined as a change in vegetation that takes place on previously unvegetated terrain.  A few examples where primary succession comes about include the formation of new islands, new volcanic rock, and on land formed from glacier retreats. The initial conditions in primary succession are often harsh, with little or no soil present. The site condition changes slowly in response to the vegetation as soil grows. 

The problem here is that primary succession occurs only on previously unvegetated terrain. However, if the soil continuously develops throughout time and there is a relation between vegetation and soil development, the primary succession never ends.

Primary Succession Examples

Primary succession can occur after the different events. This includes:

  • Retreat of Glaciers

  • Volcanic Eruptions

  • Landslides

  • Flooding Accompanied by Severe Soil Erosion

Following are the key differences between primary succession and secondary succession.

Primary Succession and Secondary Succession Differences

Key Differences

Primary Succession

Secondary Succession


It occurs in areas that are lifeless or barren.

It occurs in areas that were previously inhabited or recently denuded.

Time to Complete

It takes around 1000 or more years to complete.

It takes around 50-200 years to complete.


Humus is absent in starting as there is no soil.

The presence of humus in secondary succession is due to the previous occupants and their decomposition.


Absence of soil in the initial process.

The soil is present along with the other organisms.



Environment is unfavourable since the beginning.

The environment is favourable since beginning

Seral Community

Many seral

intermediary communities are there in primary succession

Less intermediary seral communities are there in secondary succession in comparison to the primary succession.

Previous Community

No previous community is found in the environment prior to the primary succession. 

Previous communities are present in the environment prior to the secondary succession.


Ponds, desert, bare rocks etc.

These are affected by natural calamities, covered under deforestation, etc.

Primary and Secondary Ecological Succession Facts

  • Primary succession is a series of community changes that occurs in an entirely new habitat and has never been colonized before. A  newly quarried rock face or dunes is an example of primary succession.

  • Secondary succession occurs in an area that is previously colonized but disturbed or damaged habitat.  For example, after falling a tree in the woods, land clearance, or a fire.

  • Succession will not move further than the climax community. This is the final stage of succession.

  • The most renowned example of succession deals with plant succession. It is worth remembering that as the plant community changes so will the associated microorganisms, fungus, and animal species. Succession includes the whole community rather than just the plant community.

Characteristics of Secondary Succession

  • Secondary succession is a systematic process focusing on the species and the change in the structure of species.

  • In this succession, the changes in species are described as 'directional' and take place in a particular period of time.

  • The secondary succession is caused due to the physical environmental changes and variation in a population of species.

  • In secondary succession, scientists predicted the changes based on the knowledge and study they conduct in the forests. Therefore, this process is mainly biologically feasible and self-going.

Causes of Ecological Succession

Ecological succession takes place due to: 

  • Due to Climatic Factor - Climate conditions such as fast wind, deposits, erosion, fire can become the cause of secondary erosion.

  • Activities are done by the organism in the habitat causing Ecological succession in that area.

  • Activities such as migration for safety against outside aggregation can also lead to ecological succession.

  • Industrialization and urbanization become a cause of migration, which leads to economic succession.

Succession Mechanism 

Successional processes are not predictable in general. But, Clements predicted some stats in the 1920s which proved to be right in the present time. For example, he predicted the increase in species diversity during the successional age. Similarly, one of the examples of primary succession was presented by William Cooper, William Reiners, and more in the year 1925-1975. Also, the retreating of glacier filling has also been seen Since 1794. 

The invasive species are considered as the natural component of succession. Also, recent research studies have examined secondary succession in-depth but cannot determine the exact statistics about it. Hence, secondary succession can be predictable but not accurately.

FAQs on Secondary Succession

1. What is ecological succession?

Ecological succession is the process of changing the structure of the species of an ecological community over time. These changes result in some species becoming more abundant while others may go into decline. The time duration of ecological succession can be decades (for example, after a wildfire) or even millions of years after the mass extinction. There are two types of ecological succession namely primary succession and secondary succession

2. What is known as pioneer species?

A pioneer species is the first one to colonize a barren system. These hardy plants and microbial species are the first to return to the environment that has been disturbed by deforestation and wildfires. Once they arrive, pioneer species begin the recovery of the ecosystem by making it more hospitable for the species. This can be processed through nutrition enrichment, soil stabilization, minimization of light availability and wind exposure, and temperature moderation.

3.  What is a seral community?

A seral community is nothing but an intermediate phase of ecological succession progressing towards the climax community. A seral community is replaced by a subsequent community. It consists of simple food webs and food chains and exhibits a very low degree of diversity. Depending on the substratum and climatic conditions, a seral community can be the following:

  • Hydrosere - Community on Water Lithosere - Community on rock

  • Psammosere - Community on sand

  • Xerosere - Community in dry areas Halosere- Community in saline area.

In the recently logged coniferous forest, secondary succession can be observed in the form of Seral communities. In a community, potential natural community, late seral, mid seral, and early seral are the 4 well-known stages of seral community formation. 

4. What is forest management? How is secondary succession related to forestry and forest management?

Forest management is the branch of forestry that looks after the administrative, legal, economic aspects related to the forest. It also includes regulation, protection, and silviculture of forest. The forest management department focuses on the conservation of water, wildlife, and other resources as well. The working of a forest management system depends on factors such as climate, topography, soil type, etc. This also helps in encouraging the diversity of the ecosystem.

Importance of forest management :

  • It helps in avoiding the damage caused to the forest in various ways.

  • Management of forests helps in the conservation of many other natural species such as animals, birds, plants, and creatures of forests. 

  • It also helps in understanding wildlife and forestry better. By managing forests, scientists and organizations also find new ways of handling forestry and habitat on a large scale.

Therefore, forest management also encourages secondary succession. This is because both of the processes lead to the same conclusion 'growth of trees on the particular land'. The difference between succession and forest management act is that succession is not a planned activity whereas forest management is a planned and skillful process requiring a group of people. 

5. Which of the following options explains the conversion of a pond to a dense forest community?

a. hydrarch succession

b. xerarch succession

c. mesarch succession

d. all of these

(a) hydrarch succession

6. In the ecological succession, the intermediate developmental stage is known as: 

a. ecesis

b. sere

c. climax

d. nudation

(b) sere

7. Which of the following phenomenon is responsible for the formation of the dense community (from abandoned farmland)?

a. allogenic succession

b. Autogenic succession

c. primary succession

d. secondary succession

(d) secondary succession.