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early 14c., "fact or right of succeeding someone by inheritance," from Old French succession (13c.), from Latin successionem (nominative successio) "a following after, a coming into another's place, result," from successus, past participle of succedere (see succeed). Meaning "fact of being later in time" is late 14c.
The gradual replacement of one type of ecological community by another in the same area, involving a series of orderly changes, especially in the dominant vegetation. Succession is usually initiated by a significant disturbance of an existing community. Each succeeding community modifies the physical environment, as by introducing shade or changing the fertility or acidity of the soil, creating new conditions that benefit certain species and inhibit others until a climax community is established. ◇ The sequential development of plant and animal communities in an area in which no topsoil exists, as on a new lava flow, is called primary succession. ◇ The development of such communities in an area that has been disturbed but still retains its topsoil, as in a burned-over area, is called secondary succession. See more at climax community.