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Vegetation succession is a key element for research studying biodiversity losses, effects of climatic change on ecosystems, invasive species and restoration of ecosystems in which human activities have shifted their natural or semi-natural vegetation. Surrogate variables like Pignatti's bioindicator values or dissimilarity indices can provide further insights regarding succession trajectories aggregating the combined effects of changes in the cover/abundance of taxa. The land-use abandonment in an area in the estuary of the River Aliakmon, N. Greece, provides an opportunity to study medium-term rates and patterns during the first twelve years of vegetation succession. Cluster and time-series analyses of turnover rates, Sørensen's dissimilarity index and Pignatti's bioindicator values revealed clear differences in succession patterns and rates among permanent plots. Succession rates and patterns in the study area were found to be dominated by two ecological factors. On the one hand, availability of fresh water, assumed by the proximity to the river, allows the fast growing Populus alba to develop a forest canopy that radically alters the shading environment which, in its turn, controls succession trajectories. Increased soil salinity on the other hand, allows salt-tolerant taxa to be quickly established, and defines the species inventory on these sites as early as the first years of succession.