Difference Between Primary and Secondary Succession (With Table)

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.

Primary vs Secondary Succession

The difference between primary and secondary succession is that they have a very different starting point as well as the steps that entail the process of ecological succession in these categories are different from each other. Primary succession begins in a new habitat, while secondary succession begins in an already inhabited one.

Primary succession occurs when a new mass of rock is created and there is no soil 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 process of ecological succession that occurs following the abandonment of human development. 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 Between Primary and Secondary Succession

Parameters of ComparisonPrimary Succession Secondary 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 usually 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 that require the least amount of 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. New islands may be formed by the movement of tectonic plates.

For instance, when an ice shelf melts, it can create areas of soil when the ice melts at the 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.


Ecological succession is defined as a process by which a community progressively changes over time from one community structure to another as a result of the interactions between the different species in the community. In other words, ecological succession can be defined as a change in an ecosystem over time.

Ecological succession is an important concept to consider when studying ecology. By knowing the difference between the type of succession going on in an area, we can consider how to manage the population of species and how to have sustainable development such that the climax communities live in harmony.


  1. https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=fkfr24g-PCkC&oi=fnd&pg=PR12&dq=primary+succession&ots=LdpK3QfPdZ&sihttps://www.annualreviews.org/doi/pdf/10.1146/annurev.es.05.110174.000325g=POKnCPLyK1o-3CozkbnaKD6LXug
  2. https://www.annualreviews.org/doi/pdf/10.1146/annurev.es.05.110174.000325
2D vs 3D