Primary succession begins in barren areas, such as on bare rock exposed by a retreating glacier. The first inhabitants are lichens or plants—those that can survive in such an environment. Over hundreds of years these “pioneer species” convert the rock into soil that can support simple plants such as grasses. These grasses further modify the soil, which is then colonized by other types of plants. Each successive stage modifies the habitat by altering the amount of shade and the composition of the soil. The final stage of succession is a climax community, which is a very stable stage that can endure for hundreds of years.
Plants that make up the early stages of succession also die, decompose, and contribute to the growing layer of soil. This process takes place over hundreds or thousands of years, however. Eventually, the soil is able to support more complex plants, such as larger shrubs and small trees including aspen, black spruce, and jack pine. These plants gradually take over from earlier communities since they are taller, have more leaves, and can capture more sunlight that was originally captured by simpler plants.