Succession describes a habitat’s growth from emergence to great age. Primary succession happens after catastrophic disturbance—glaciation, volcanic-island-creation, etc.—essentially removes all living material. Here’s a series for post-glacial succession in Áak’w Táak, inland from little lake, (Mendenhall Valley), inferred from a chronosequence on mesic surfaces (that is: not too wet, not too dry). Succession on poorly- or excessively-drained surfaces is quite different.

A Postglacial barrens with lichens, moss & dwarf fireweed. ● B Alder/willow thicket with small spruce saplings. ● C1 Thickets still productive but overtopped by cottonwood & spruce. ● C2 Cottonwood & spruce close canopy over senescing thickets. ● D Spruces overtop senescing cottonwoods. Small shade-tolerant hemlocks in subcanopy. Depauperate, mossy understory. Only after ~200 years does blueberry fill in. ● E After many centuries without stand-replacing disturbance, hemlock-dominated old growth develops, distinguished from D by gappy canopy, rich, patchwork of shrub & subcanopy layers, plentiful deer forbs & abundant standing & down dead wood.

Check out the Succession illustration below for comparison of secondary succession after logging and streamside flooding.

Successional stages  Community development takes many alternative pathways, but in Southeast Alaska we can at least make some rough generalization about structural stages. Here’s 5 stages span a series on well-drained lowland soils from earliest herbaceous colonizers to old-growth forest types.

1) Herbaceous communities Only the most violent of disturbances can knock a forest community all the way back to herbaceous successional stages. More typically, as with logging or blowdown, the initial response to disturbance is led by shrubs and tree saplings. Meadows on well-drained surfaces are fairly uncommon and usually ephemeral, because forest will be the concluding habitat here. One such community is uplift meadow on surfaces raised from tidal elevations by glacial rebound. Another is maintained in early successional status by repeated disturbance on the slopes of very active avalanche chutes. These sites are swept so frequently that even the flexible Sitka alder is incapable of gaining a foothold. Instead, productive communities of grasses, sedges, ferns,
and tall herbs such as fireweed and cow parsnip may develop, growing most luxuriantly on bombarded colluvial toe slopes.

2) Shrub thickets  Early shrub stages of post-logging (secondary) succession on upland sites are dominated by species that already existed in the understory of the logged forest: blueberry, salmonberry, and ferns. These species, plus trailing black currant, account for 90% of plant production in young Southeast clearcuts. This production increases with time, until the new forest closes canopy after 20–30 years. In post-glacial (primary) succession, no remnant shrubs from previous communities are poised to inherit the newly uncovered landscape. The first shrub to dominate the landscape is usually Sitka alder.

3) Mixed conifer-deciduous  Thicket species are short-lived, as indicated in the transition from stages C1 to C2 in the cartoon above. Because alder and willow are shade-intolerant, young plants rarely survive under the foliage of their parents. Aging willow and Sitka alder bushes begin to die back when overtopped by red alder, black cottonwood, Sitka spruce, lodgepole pine, or western hemlock. Only in perennially disturbed sites such as slide chutes can alder/willow thickets persist indefinitely. Large expanses of the mixed conifer-deciduous forest are limited mostly to post-glacial and active alluvial surfaces of the mainland.

4) Young, even-aged conifer  After logging or high-intensity blowdown on upland slopes, maturing forests often enter a stage in which young, densely stocked conifers close canopy, shading out the understory. From a forester’s perspective, this first-come-first-served second-growth has been called the “stem-exclusion stage.” Less vigorous overstory trees (“stems” in forester lingo) gradually die off and little colonization of tree seedlings can occur until canopy opens up again. From a community ecologist’s perspective, the young, closed canopy forest has been called the “depauperate understory stage.” Cover of shrubs and herbs drops to almost nil, typically for a century or more. In primary succession, forest takes longer to reach this closed-canopy stage (D in cartoon above).

5) Old growth  Stage E in the cartoon. Uneven-aged, with much more complex diverse structure than stage D. For resources on old-growth forest, see Nature>Habitats>Terrestrial>Forest.

In this section

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2020 | Richard Carstensen |

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Staney Creek

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2020 | Richard Carstensen | 19 minute slideshow

Seasonal re-photography

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2020 | Richard Carstensen | 3.5 minute video & 63-page pdf

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2018 | Richard Carstensen | 7 minutes

False Island journal 20080806

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2008 | Richard Carstensen | 70 pages

Hammered gems & unproductive leftovers.

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2008 | Carstensen & Christensen | 30 pages

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2005 | Carstensen & Christensen | 63 pages

2008 flight over Sitka use area

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2008 | Richard Carstensen | 29 pages

Suitability for logging

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2009 | Richard Carstensen | 19 pages

Fickle fashions: stereoscopy

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2013 | Richard Carstensen | 6 pages

Discovery’s education and research at The Glacier

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2017 | Richard Carstensen | 27 minutes

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2017 | Richard Carstensen | 20 minutes

Cemetery stem mapping: then and now

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2017 | Richard Carstensen | 13 minute slideshow

Sesquicentennial slideshow

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2017 | Richard Carstensen | 28 minutes

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2017 | Richard Carstensen | 41 Pages

Succession illustration

This info sheet explains how a forest changes as it matures from emerging forest to old growth. Download info sheet…

2015 | 1 Page

Northern Baranof Island: Past, present, and future

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2007 | Bob Christensen|Richard Carstensen | 12 pages

Beavers by the Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau, Alaska

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2009 | Bob Armstrong|Mary Wilson | 62 pages

Lichens around Mendenhall Glacier

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2010 | Bob Armstrong & Chiska Derr | 50 pages