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Succession is the natural progressive change from one ecosystem or habitat type to another by a process of soil and community development and colonization. It usually refers to the transformation of exposed soil or disturbed land into a forest. This progression is combated against through constant mowing, weeding, plowing, and pesticides.

If left alone, large portions of the world would revert to forests. Annual and perennial opportunistic plants would first colonize any bare soil, eventually shrubs would overtake the land, then sun-loving trees, and finally longer-lived shade tolerant trees would establish and dominate. The process would take decades, but a mature forest would eventually establish through succession.

Intermediate succession, before the tree canopy closes in, has the highest net primary production.


Primary succession

Primary succession is the first stage of succession and begins with bare soil or rock, with no biological legacies from a disturbance.

Secondary succession

Secondary succession is the second stage that begins after a disturbance to a preexisting ecosystem. The direction of the following succession is influenced by biological legacies from the previous ecosystem.

Understory repression

Understory repression is where dense pioneer tree saplings shade out sun-loving shrubs and herbs and the understory often becomes barren.

Simulated succession

The natural process of succession can be simulated to achieve late stage succession when desired.

Instant succession

Instant succession is the immediate planting of all the species for each stage of succession, such as herbs, shrubs, and trees, in an open field or lawn. This method incurs a large initial investment of time and money. Place short-living sun-loving plants around long-living ones and properly space all plants, especially longer-living ones, to account for their fully mature size. Provide sufficient groundcover and sun-loving plants.[1]

Relay planting

An alternative to instant succession relay planting, as in a relay-race where plants in each step passes a metaphorical baton to the next group once they have served their purposes. Plant sun-loving early-succession species first to let fully mature. Eventually add plant more shade and stress-tolerant plants and replace fertility-building plants with crops. This method is useful for highly disturbed land that is too damaged for instant succession.


  1. Jacke, Dave, and Eric Toensmeier. Edible Forest Gardens, Volume One. Chelsea Green Publishing, 2005. pp 36-41.