Primary vs Secondary Succession: Difference and Comparison

Ecological succession is a means of analyzing how biological communities change over time. It is a natural process that occurs as a community develops.

Ecological succession can also be seen as a succession from less complex communities to more complex ones.

Key Takeaways

  1. Primary succession occurs in areas with no soil or organisms, while secondary succession occurs in areas with already soil and some organisms present.
  2. In primary succession, the first organisms to colonize the area are lichens and mosses, whereas, in secondary succession, the first organisms are grasses and shrubs.
  3. Primary succession takes longer to establish a stable ecosystem than secondary succession.

Primary vs Secondary Succession

Primary succession occurs in areas where there is no soil, such as on bare rock, sand dunes, or after a volcanic eruption. Secondary succession occurs in areas where there is soil, but the ecosystem has been disturbed by events such as wildfires, landslides, or human activities such as clear-cutting.

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Primary succession occurs when a new rock mass is created and no soil is present. Without soil, plants cannot grow, and there is no organic matter in the soil to provide nutrients to plants.

Primary succession is the process of an ecosystem developing from bare rock, such as volcanic islands and newly formed volcanic islands.

Rather than soil developing gradually, primary succession is characterized by a very rapid buildup of soil.

Secondary succession is the ecological succession process that occurs following human development’s abandonment.

Such abandoned development can be either natural (i.e., a landslide or sinkhole forming) or the result of human activity (i.e., construction of a quarry, road, or structure).

Comparison Table

Parameters of ComparisonPrimary SuccessionSecondary Succession
Starts InPrimary succession begins in a newly formed habitat.Secondary succession begins in a habit that is already established.
InfluencePrimary succession happens on its own.Secondary succession takes place under external influence.
Pioneer SpeciesPrimary succession begins with a pioneer species.Secondary succession does not begin with pioneer species.
HumusThere is no humus present in the environment where primary succession occurs.There is preexisting humus in an environment where secondary succession occurs.
Seral CommunitiesPrimary succession has many seral communities.Secondary succession has fewer seral communities.

What is Primary Succession?

Primary succession is a process in which an ecosystem develops on a bare landmass with no previous ecosystem.

This process occurs on an area of land that has been recently elevated, such as a mountain range. An example of primary succession would be the formation of an island on top of a volcano.

 The first organisms to inhabit the island would be small, simple organisms requiring the least resources to survive. These organisms can be driftwood, algae, or pond scum.

The organisms slowly decompose, which releases the nutrients back into the soil. These nutrients allow more complex organisms to inhabit the island.

As this process continues, the island starts to resemble an ecosystem.

Primary succession is the formation of new land on Earth. It occurs in places where tectonic plates are moving apart, or tectonic plates are pushed up or down over rocks.

The movement of tectonic plates may cause the rock to crack open, which leaves space for new plants to grow. As more plants grow, they cover up the cracks and soil forms.

The movement of tectonic plates may form new islands.

For instance, when an ice shelf melts, it can create areas of soil when the ice melts at lower elevations. The ice shelf will leave behind rocky soil in the process.

What is Secondary Succession?

Secondary succession is a process in which a new community is created after a disturbance in a system. The new community will have a different species composition from the original community.

The original species will not come back, but different species will take their place. In this example, the system takes the form of a community in a grassland ecosystem.

The disturbance, in this case, would be when a fire damaged the community. The new species that would take the place of the old species would be the shrub that is resistant to fire.

This is an example of secondary succession because the community that came before this one did not have the shrub.

Secondary succession is the process in which ecosystems develop on land that has already supported life. It is the process that occurs after primary succession.

The last organism to occupy an area of land is called the climax community.

A new ecosystem begins when the climax community is destroyed, either by natural or human-induced events. The plant life that immediately follows is known as the early seral community.

The next plant life phase is the late seral community. If the new ecosystem is stable, it eventually becomes mature.

Main Differences Between Primary and Secondary Succession

  1. Primary succession begins in a completely new habitat that has been recently formed, whereas secondary succession occurs in an environment previously inhabited or recently destroyed.
  2. Primary succession results in new life in a habitat, whereas secondary succession occurs after the downfall of a climax community for any suitable reason.
  3. Primary succession occurs in an area unsuitable for life, whereas secondary succession occurs in an area that was at least previously inhabited.
  4. Primary succession is a long process in comparison to secondary succession.
  5. Primary succession occurs through various seral stages or communities, whereas secondary succession occurs in a few seral stages.

Last Updated : 11 June, 2023

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