• Ordination;
  • Spatial dependence;
  • Species composition;
  • Transition probability;
  • Vegetation type

Abstract. The predictability of early primary succession in post-mining landscapes of eastern Germany was studied at sites 5–70 yr following dumping. This chronosequence was investigated using indirect ordination methods. The position of the vegetation types in the ordination diagram was found not to infer any temporal sequence. Independent observations show that the change of vegetation type is slow and does not necessarily occur among types adjacent in the ordination diagram. Furthermore, direct ordination revealed that environmental parameters such as pH, the levels of available phosphate and organic carbon as well as the age of the study sites do not significantly account for the variance. Instead, attention needs to be paid to the influence of spatial aspects and also what recultivation measures have been carried out. A detailed account of the vegetation dynamics of individual sample plots showed - depending on the respective vegetation type - divergence, convergence, and fluctuation at the smallest spatial scale. While the species richness of the sample plots remained more or less constant after initial colonization, mean vegetation cover continuously increases with age, although some sites still remain free of vegetation after as long as 70 yr. No general trend in dominant life forms was indicated. A conceptual model of early succession mechanisms is outlined and five basic mechanisms are identified (i.e. site availability, site suitability, availability of diaspores, strategies of colonizing species and biotic interactions). Their respective importance in three different stages of early succession is estimated and compared. The predictability of vegetation dynamics at each stage is rated differently.