Patterns of succession in Lau Basin hydrothermal vent communities determined with high-resolution imagery and in situ physico-chemical data collected over 4 yr and analyzed within a Geographic Information System show that Alviniconcha snails are a pioneering group, the snail Ifremeria nautilei is a mid-successional species, and the heat-intolerant mussel Bathymodiolus brevior dominates when venting declines. The associated fauna also changes as communities progress through the successional stages, and eventually non-vent-endemic deep-sea species appear when venting has mostly subsided. This is a unique example of primary succession in which the primary producers form symbiotic associations with mobile animals, resulting in successional patterns not observed in other systems. I. nautilei dominates newly formed substrates or venting sources where both I. nautilei and Alviniconcha spp. are already established (e.g., by migration), while Alviniconcha spp. seem to be better at colonizing newly active vents (e.g., by settlement) that are remote from colonized vents. Thus, on the scale of a 5-39 m(2) diffuse flow area or a single edifice, the mid-successional species dominates new substrates instead of the pioneering group. These communities are remarkably stable over long time periods relative to other hydrothermal vent regions. In addition to the sequential replacements of species as sites age and overall conditions change, Lau vent animals track changes in vent fluids and relocate themselves when local hydrothermal plumbing changes over small spatial scales.