We lack a deep understanding of genetic and metabolic attributes specializing in microbial consortia for initial and subsequent waves of colonization of our body habitats. Here we show that phylogenetically interspersed bacteria in Clostridium cluster XIVa, an abundant group of bacteria in the adult human gut also known as the Clostridium coccoides or Eubacterium rectale group, contains species that have evolved distribution patterns consistent with either early successional or stable gut communities. The species that specialize to the infant gut are more likely to associate with systemic infections and can reach high abundances in individuals with Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), indicating that a subset of the microbiota that have adapted to pioneer/opportunistic lifestyles may do well in both early development and with disease. We identified genes likely selected during adaptation to pioneer/opportunistic lifestyles as those for which early succession association and not phylogenetic relationships explain genomic abundance. These genes reveal potential mechanisms by which opportunistic gut bacteria tolerate osmotic and oxidative stress and potentially important aspects of their metabolism. These genes may not only be biomarkers of properties associated with adaptation to early succession and disturbance, but also leads for developing therapies aimed at promoting reestablishment of stable gut communities following physiologic or pathologic disturbances.