During the initial phases of succession on nutrient-poor, mineral substrates dead plant material accumulates rapidly in the soil. This accumulation of soil organic matter can result in a more than 10-fold increase in nitrogen mineralization within a few decades. These changes in soil features have important consequences for plant growth and the competition between plant species. During succession in heathlands an increase in nutrient mineralization leads to species with low maximum growth rates and low biomass loss rates being replaced by species with high potential growth rates and high biomass losses. The plant properties responsible for reduced biomass loss rates appear to result in the litter produced being poorly decomposable, whereas the litter from plants with high potential growth rates decomposes more easily. Model simulations suggest that such combinations of plant features greatly influence the increase in mineralization and the change in plant species composition during ecosystem development. Studies in the field and garden plot experiments confirmed this hypothesis.