What is ecological succession?

Ecological succession is the process of change in the species structure of an ecological community over time. The time scale can be decades (for example, after a wildfire), or even millions of years after a mass extinction.

The community begins with relatively few pioneering plants and animals and develops through increasing complexity until it becomes stable or self-perpetuating as a climax community. The ʺengineʺ of succession, the cause of ecosystem change, is the impact of established species upon their own environments. A consequence of living is the sometimes subtle and sometimes overt alteration of one's own environment.

It is a phenomenon or process by which an ecological community undergoes more or less orderly and predictable changes following a disturbance or the initial colonization of a new habitat. Succession may be initiated either by formation of new, unoccupied habitat, such as from a lava flow or a severe landslide, or by some form of disturbance of a community, such as from a fire, severe windthrow, or logging. Succession that begins in new habitats, uninfluenced by pre-existing communities is called primary succession, whereas succession that follows disruption of a pre-existing community is called secondary succession.

Succession was among the first theories advanced in ecology. The study of succession remains at the core of ecological science. Ecological succession was first documented in the Indiana Dunes of Northwest Indiana which led to efforts to preserve the Indiana Dunes. Exhibits on ecological succession are displayed in the Hour Glass, a museum in Ogden Dunes.