• Chronosequence;
  • Plant community;
  • Root system;
  • Soil development;
  • Vegetation cover

Abstract. Primary succession was studied on recently de-glaciated areas in front of the Ampère Glacier, Kerguelen Islands (49° 30′S, 69° 30′E). Vegetation, colonization processes and soil development were investigated on seven sites on the outwash plain over a distance of 5 km and representing a > 200-yr old chronosequence. Seven species are involved in the succession, showing four patterns of change: (1)‘pioneer’ (Poa kerguelensis, Poa annua, Colobanthus kerguelensis and Cerastium fontanum); (2)‘intermediate’ (Festuca contracta); (3)‘late colonizer’ (Azorella selago); and (4)‘fluctuating’ (Agrostis magellanica). Two of the pioneers are introduced species (Poa annua and Cerastium). The total plant cover increases significantly with the age of the sites but never exceeds 4.2 %. The plant succession pattern observed in this study appears to be related to soil development. Root architecture and fine particle dynamics in the soil may explain the behaviour of the different species along the chronosequence. The pioneer species have a very shallow root system whereas the intermediate and late colonizers are deeper and longer rooted. The dominance of Azorella selago (Apiaceae) in the oldest community may be attributed to its unique root system in relation to the vertical distribution of silt cappings in the soil.