Pioneer Community: Definition & Explanation

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  • 0:00 What Is a Community?
  • 0:35 Ecological Succession
  • 1:39 Pioneer Communities
  • 2:43 Examples of Pioneer…
  • 4:03 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Amanda Robb

Amanda holds a Masters in Science from Tufts Medical School in Cellular and Molecular Physiology. She has taught high school Biology and Physics for 8 years.

In this lesson, we'll be explaining what ecological succession is and the role that pioneer species play in it. We'll explain the pioneer community and look at an example of volcanic rock.

What is a Community?

Picture your local community. You're probably thinking of your friends, family, maybe local businesses, or the mailman. Although, it's a little different in biology, an ecological community is pretty similar. An ecological community is all the living things in an organism's environment. So, for example, in a forest community, plants, fungi, animals, and bacteria are the components of the community. Today, we're going to look at how these communities are built from scratch. How do we transform barren rock into a thriving forest? This is the focus of our lesson today.

Ecological Succession

Ecological Succession is the development of an ecosystem over time. There are two types of ecological succession:

  • Primary succession, which starts from barren rock with no life
  • Secondary succession, which starts from an already existing ecosystem that has been destroyed, such as the aftermath of a forest fire.

Pioneer species are the very first species to colonize an area during primary succession. So, a community of this species would be a pioneer community. If the entire ecosystem is wiped out, you might be wondering how pioneer species get to the area in the first place. Wind carries seeds from plants and can bring them into a foreign area. In Hawaii, the volcanic mountains have different rates of succession, depending on how much wind they are exposed to. The windward side of Kilauea volcano is teeming with thick forest. However, the leeward side, which is not exposed to wind is still mostly barren rock. Pioneer species have no way of getting to the area without wind, so there has been less primary succession.

Pioneer Communities

Pioneer species are generally plants that grow quickly and are low to the ground to maximize sunlight intake. Mosses, lichen, and low-growing grasses are the first to colonize an area. These species are hearty and can withstand a harsh environment present after a disaster. For example, there may be very little groundwater on volcanic rock or little nutrients. The sun bakes the area with little cover from other plants. Pioneer species need to be able survive these conditions to take hold.

All of the pioneer species in a particular species make up a pioneer community. Pioneer species are very important to starting an ecosystem. They break down the hard, rocky soil and make nutrients and groundwater sources available for other plants. This process may take hundreds of years before larger plant species and animals can inhabit the area. Their twisted root system prevents water runoff, leaving moisture for other plants. They also cushion the ground, providing a substrate for other plants to grow on and a microhabitat for insects, like mites and eventually spiders.

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