Ecological Succession


Succession is the changes, over time, in the species that occupy a particular area.

The first stage of succession is the colonisation of an inhospitable environment by pioneer species. They are adapted for hostile conditions:

  • production of vast quantities of wind-dispersed seed or spores
  • rapid germination of seeds on arrival
  • ability to photosynthesis
  • ability to 'fix' nitrogen from the atmosphere
  • tolerance to extreme conditions

Succession takes place in a series of stages. At each stage, certain species grow which change the environment so that it becomes more suitable for other species. These other species may then out-compete the existing species so a new community is formed.

In the end a climax community is formed, consisting of plants and animals. In this climax community, there is normally a dominant plant species and a dominant animal species.

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Features of Succession

  • non-living environment becomes less hostile
  • greater number and variety of habitats
  • increased biodiversity
  • more complex food webs
  • increased biomass


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Conservation is the management of the Earth's natural resources in a way that maximum use of them can be made in the future. There are several reasons to do this:

  • ethical: respect for living things who have the right to co-exist with humans
  • economic: living organisms contain a huge pool of genes that have the capacity to make millions of substances that may be valuable in the future
  • cultural and aesthetic: habitats and organisms enrich our lives, adding interest to it

One way of conserving these habitats and species is by managing succession in a way that prevents a change to the next stage. For example, burning the heather in the moorland or letting sheep graze on it.

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