Aquatic Succession: Definition, Stages & Example

Instructor: Adrianne Baron

Adrianne has taught high school and college biology and has a master's degree in cancer biology.

Bodies of water change over the course of hundreds to thousands of years. This lesson looks at aquatic succession by going over the stages and seeing how succession proceeds.

Aquatic Succession

Growing up, you often visited both a pond in the neighborhood and large lake outside of town. When you came to visit your hometown years after moving away, you notice that the pond isn't there anymore. That was a bit disappointing. The lake however, looks as beautiful as ever.

Questions start to go through your mind. What happened to the pond? How long ago did it disappear?

The answer has to do with aquatic succession (also called hydrosere), a series of stages that causes bodies of water to turn into simply land. The process of aquatic succession is also called hydrosere and hydrarch succession.

Stages of Succession

In order to fully understand what happened, we have to look further back in the history of this pond and the seven stages of succession.

1. Phytoplankton Stage

There was a point when your favorite pond was going through the phytoplankton stage, when the water in the pond was occupied by algae, phytoplankton (aquatic plants), bacteria, and zooplankton (small aquatic animals).

These small creatures are considered the pioneers, which are the organisms that start a community. The pioneer species carry out photosynthesis, adding organic matter and releasing nutrients as part of their metabolic activities. A layer of muck forms on the bottom of the pond as the pioneer species die off.

2. Rooted Submerged Stage

This leads into the second stage, the rooted submerged stage, when the build-up of mud causes the pond to become shallower. This makes for just the right nutrients and sunlight preferred by rooted plants. These are submerged hydrophytes like Chara, Elodea, Ceratophyllum, and Hydrilla. The mass of hydrophytes continue grow and become entangled with each other.

These plants too eventually start dying off, and sediment continues to enter the pond as well. The pond becomes more and more shallow as the layer at the bottom rises. Eventually, the pond is better suited to a different sort of plant.

3. Floating Stage

The third stage is the floating stage, when rooted, floating plant species begin to grow and develop all over the pond. The leaf parts of these plants float on the surface of pond, blocking sunlight. This seals the deal for the submerged plants, which begin dying off at this point.

Rooted floating plants include Nymphaea and Trapa. However, the rooted floating plants will begin to experience the same thing that happened to the submerged plants. The depth of the pond will continue to decrease as more dead plants are added to the bottom of the pond.

4. Reed-Swamp Stage

This leads into stage four which is the reed-swamp, also called the amphibious stage. Here the rooted floating plants at the bottom of the pond will decay, enhancing the nutrients in the soil and makinhg it more fertile for plants that can live in either water or on land.

These amphibious plants, such as Typha and Phragmites, are thicker and therefore make it more difficult for sunlight to get down into the lower depths of the pond. This results in the death of any remaining rooted submerged or rooted floating plants.

5. Sedge-Meadow Stage

You came back at the time when the pond was in the fifth stage known as the sedge-meadow stage, where the pond becomes marshy. Plants that are able to live in marshy conditions, such as Gallium, Caltha and Iris, begin taking over.

These species absorb water from the pond and release it in the form of transpiration. The pond dries up completely, leaving the soil exposed. The air touching the soil causes a series of chemical reactions that convert the soil into terrestrial soil, which is more land like soil.

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