Successional theory still lacks an explicit, conceptual integration across types of disturbances and biomes. Most successional research addresses site- or process-specific questions, but extrapolation of findings to broad scales is limited. Are there common patterns of plant succession across disturbances and biomes? We address this question by comparing the following successional characteristics among all major terrestrial disturbances and biomes of the world: 1) patterns of species richness, 2) rates of species turnover, 3) time to recovery of pre-disturbance vegetation, 4) occurrence of divergent and convergent trajectories, and 5) role of non-native species in arresting or diverting succession.
Our analyses suggest that: 1) species richness generally increases during succession in sites of low productivity and fluctuates in high-productivity sites; 2) rates of species turnover decrease with increasing latitude and are slower in non-productive sites; 3) recovery of pre-disturbance vegetation takes longer in forests and shrublands than in grasslands and deserts; 4) no common pattern emerges in the occurrence of convergent and divergent trajectories; and 5) non-native species are most likely to alter succession in mid-latitudes. Our results will assist those attempting to predict and to manage successional ecosystems and hopefully lead to more emphasis in future studies on standardization of sampling protocols and comparisons across disturbances and biomes.