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CSR classification aims to apply CSR theory to large numbers of plants in situ, thereby allowing the investigation of communities within a functional context. However, it has only ever been applied to British vegetation, during the development of the technique, and has not yet been used to investigate specific vegetation processes. Here, a vegetation primary succession on a glacier foreland (Rutor glacier, Aosta, Italy) was used as a ‘test bed’ for the hypothesis that CSR classification can distinguish functional shifts during this vegetation process. Morpho-functional traits were used to calculate CSR coordinates for 45 species throughout the glacier foreland. General functional similarities between species were verified using principal components analysis (PCA). CSR classification demonstrated a functional shift from broadly ruderal pioneers towards stress-tolerance in late succession. PCA 1 correlated with S and R strategies, confirming this gradient. Till deposited at the retreating glacier terminus provides a substrate that can support faster growing species (with high foliar N contents), but is only tenable to those that can avoid physical disturbance via rapid phenological development (i.e. ruderals). Stress-tolerance and lower N contents in late succession suggest selection for efficient nutrient use. CSR classification demonstrated that competitive traits were ubiquitous but of much lesser importance than stress-tolerance or ruderalism (also correlating with PCA 2 and 3). The detailed visualization provided by CSR classification, combined with its mechanistic explanation of community change, demonstrate the promise of this methodology as a quantitative tool for comparative community ecology.