Engage: Wildfire

In September 2011, a wildfire burned over 32,000 acres in Bastrop county. Almost all of Bastrop State Park was affected by the fire. The image shows part of the park a few days after the fire.

How do you think the area has changed since 2011? How do you think it might change in the next 10 years? The next 100 years?  Record your ideas in your notebook.

Interested in learning more? Click the image for more about Bastrop State Park and its recovery from the 2011 fire.

Cite Source
Image courtesy of Ryan Depew, National Fire Protection Agency.

Explain: Primary and Secondary Succession

Ecological Succession

Watch the video about ecological succession, and record important information on the Ecological Succession Two-Column Notes handout. You can download a copy of the Ecological Succession Two-Column Notes handout in the View Related Resources section below.

Cite Source
Video retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V49IovRSJDs

Bare rock exposed by a retreating glacier

Primary Succession

Primary succession occurs where no life previously existed. It occurs in an area with no soil. Examples of primary succession include areas where

  • lava has hardened and formed new rock, 
  • new sand dunes have formed, or 
  • bare rock has been exposed after a glacier has retreated or melted.

Because soil must be formed before most plants can grow, it takes much longer for organisms to appear during primary succession than secondary succession. Some of the first organisms to appear during primary succession, the pioneer species, include lichen, algae, fungi, and mosses. These organisms can help break down rock and form soil.

Deforestation in the Phillipines

Secondary Succession

Secondary succession occurs in an area where soil already exists and life previously occurred.  Because there is already soil and because some organisms may survive a disturbance, life generally returns much faster during secondary succession.


Plants and animals are both affected by long-term drought.

Secondary succession follows some sort of disturbance to the environment.  In the Engage images and the Explore video, secondary succession was observed after a wildfire. Fire is not the only disturbance   that can result in secondary succession. What other natural events or human activities could result in secondary succession?  Record your ideas on the Ecological Succession Two-Column Notes handout.

How are animals affected by succession?

Primary succession occurs in an area where there was previously no life, so there are very few or no animals in an area when primary succession begins.

Secondary succession occurs after a disturbance in an area with plant and animal life. In addition to destroying the plant community, a disturbance may kill many animals in the area. Animals that survive may move to new areas to find shelter, water, and food.

Return of wildlife

As plant species appear during succession, wildlife will follow. Insects appear early in succession with the first plant species, such as grasses. As succession continues, small herbivores and omnivores appear, followed by larger predators.

Find links to more information about ecological succession in the View Related Resources section at the bottom of the page.

Let's review!

Match each ecological succession vocabulary term with the correct description. Record the terms and descriptions in your science notebook.

To retake the quiz, reload the page and then select "No" when the "Resume Quiz" dialog box appears.

Elaborate: Garden Succession

Students observed a garden plot over one school year and recorded their observations in a garden journal. Instead of planting seeds, the students left this garden alone to observe what happened over time. The picture shows the garden plot near the end of the school year.


The interactive activity below shows a selection of observations recorded in a garden journal throughout the school year. Use your knowledge of ecological succession to sequence the garden journal observations.


How might the garden change if the area remains undisturbed for a long period of time? Describe your ideas and/or draw a sketch in your science notebook.

Cite Source
Image courtesy of Dodie Resendez

Evaluate: Ecological Succession

Use the interactive Venn diagram to compare primary succession and secondary succession. After you place each descriptor, click "Submit" to check your answer.

To retake the quiz, reload the page and then select "No" when the "Resume Quiz" dialog box appears.

Teacher Notes

This resource is a compilation of text, videos, and other elements to create a scaffolded 5E learning experience for students. This is meant for Tier I instruction under the Response to Intervention (RtI) model for science TEKS (7)(10)(C). In this lesson, students will observe and describe the process of ecological succession.

Be sure to check for prerequisite knowledge and skills as well as differentiation needs by reviewing the entire resource and the related items before assigning it to or working through it with your students.
This resource can be used for instruction in a variety of ways.

  • Use with a single computer and projector; this resource can be delivered in a traditional classroom.
  • Use with a combination of individual student computers and teacher computer and projector (in either a computer lab or other 1:1 environment).
  • Assign the resource to students as work to do outside of the school day as part of a flipped lesson to allow application, practice, and additional support during the school day.
  • Use with students as tutorials.
  • Share with parents to inform them about what their child is learning in school.
  • Use with students who are unable to participate in the traditional classroom environment.
Lesson Part Description
Engage Students view a picture of Bastrop State Park taken a few days after the wildfire in September 2011. Students think about how the area may have changed since 2011 and how it may change in the future. Students record their ideas in their notebook. A link to the Texas Parks and Wildlife website is provided for students who are interested in learning more about the impact of the wild fire on Bastrop State Park.  Encourage interested students to research the Bastrop County Complex Fire further online.

This activity is no longer working. We hope to have it available in the future. Students explore an interactive activity that models primary and secondary succession. The first tab of the interactive activity provides background information, including simple descriptions of primary and secondary succession. The second tab of the activity models primary succession. Students can increase or decrease the temperature and amount of rainfall to determine how these factors affect the rate of succession. The third tab of the activity models secondary succession after a forest fire. Students should observe secondary succession occurs at a much faster rate than primary succession. The last tab of the activity is a quiz. Students sequence the appearance of vegetation in primary succession and then in secondary succession.  After completing the interactive activity, students answer three questions about ecological succession in their science notebook.

Please note that although the term "climax community" is often used to describe relatively stable conditions, that term is no longer used by many ecologists because scientists have come to realize that flux and change are always happening.  Although equilibrium is not achieved, "climax community" still remains a useful term when describing ecological succussion.

Explain Students learn more about ecological succession and compare primary and secondary succession. Students complete Ecological Succession Two-Column Notes while viewing a short video and reading about ecological succession. Students then match ecological succession vocabulary terms with their definitions.  Related videos are provided to help students’ understanding of ecological succession.
Elaborate Students apply what they have learned to an example of succession in a microhabitat. Students sequence observations from a garden journals in an interactive activity. After sequencing the observations, students describe in their notebook how they expect the area to change if the garden remains undisturbed.

Students complete a Venn diagram comparing primary and secondary succession in an interactive activity. A key is provided below.