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Pioneer species

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Title: Pioneer species  
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Subject: Pages needing attention/Mathematical and Natural Sciences, Climax species, Ruderal species, Sorbus aucuparia, Birch
Collection: Botany, Ecological Succession, Ecology Terminology, Forest Ecology, Ruderal Species
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Pioneer species

Centaurea maculosa, an example of pioneer species

Pioneer species are hardy species which are the first to colonize previously disrupted or damaged ecosystems, beginning a chain of ecological succession that ultimately leads to a more biodiverse steady-state ecosystem.[1] Some lichens grow on rocks without soil, so may be among the first of life forms, and break down the rock into soil for other plants.[2] Since some uncolonized land may have thin, poor quality soils with few nutrients, pioneer species are often hardy plants with adaptations such as long roots, root nodes containing nitrogen-fixing bacteria, and leaves that employ transpiration. Pioneer species will die creating plant litter, and break down as "leaf mold" after some time, making new soil for secondary succession (see below), and nutrients for small fish and aquatic plants in adjacent bodies of water.


  • Pioneer flora 1
  • Pioneer fauna 2
  • Secondary succession and pioneer species 3
  • See also 4
  • References 5

Pioneer flora

Pioneer species of plant growing on a recently erupted lava flow in Hawaii

Examples of the plants and organism that colonize such areas are pioneer species

Barren sand - lyme grass (Leymus arenarius), sea couch grass (Agropyron pungens), Marram grass (Ammophila breviligulata)
Salt water - green algae, marine eel grass (Zostera spp.), pickleweed (Salicornia virginica), and cordgrass (hybrid Spartina × townsendii) and (Spartina anglica).
Clear water - algae, mosses, freshwater eel grass (Vallisneria americana).
Solidified lava flows - swordfern (Polystichum munitum), ‘ōhi‘a lehua (Metrosideros polymorpha), ‘ohelo (Vaccinium reticulatum) and ‘āma‘u (Sadleria cyatheoides),[3] green algae
Disturbed areas such as construction sites, road cuttings and verges, cultivated lands - Buddleia davidii, Nettles, Tagetes minuta, Bidens pilosa, Argemone mexicana
Bare clay -
Mountains - Lichens

Pioneer fauna

Pioneering primary producing plants such as skeletal soil, moss and algae. Soil invertebrates enhance fungal activity by breaking down detritus. As soil develops, earthworms and ants alter soil characteristics. Worm burrows aerate soil and ant hills alter sediment particle size dispersal, altering soil character profoundly.

Though vertebrates in general would not be considered pioneer species, there are exceptions. Natterjack toads are specialists in open, sparsely vegetated habitats which may be at an early seral stage. Wide ranging generalists visit early succession stage habitats, but are not obligate species of those habitats because they use a mosaic of different habitats.

Vertebrates can effect early seral stages. Herbivores may alter plant growth. Fossorial mammals could alter soil and plant community development. In a profound example, a seabird colony transfers considerable nitrogen into infertile soils, thereby altering plant growth. A keystone species may facilitate the introduction of pioneer species by creating new niches. For example, beavers may flood an area, allowing new species to immigrate.[4]

Secondary succession and pioneer species

Pioneer species can also be found in secondary succession, such as an established ecosystem being reduced by an event such as: a forest fire, deforestation, or clearing; quickly colonizing open spaces which previously supported vegetation.

Common examples of the plants in such areas include:

See also


  1. ^ Duram, Leslie A. (2010). Encyclopedia of Organic, Sustainable, and Local Food. ABC-CLIO. p. 48.  
  3. ^ Amazing Lava Products and Forms, U.S. National Park Service. Retrieved 2015-06-16.
  4. ^ Wallwork, John Anthony (1970). Ecology of Soil Animals. McGraw-Hill.  
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