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Ecology is the study of ecological systems and how organisms interact with their surroundings. A forest is a tree-dominated ecological system (or biotic community). So Forest ecology is the scientific study of the interrelationships between organisms and their environment within forest ecosystems. It encompasses the study of various ecological processes and interactions, including the structure, function, and dynamics of forests.
Forest ecology’s main goal is to figure out what factors influence the distribution and abundance of various creatures in different forests across the world. Let’s explore more about forest ecology in this chapter.
Forest ecology is the study of forests’ interconnected patterns, processes, flora, fauna, and ecosystems. Forestry, forest management, and silviculture are used to describe how forests are managed. A forest ecosystem is a natural woodland unit that includes all of the area’s plants, animals, and microorganisms (biotic components), as well as all of the environment’s non-living physical (abiotic) aspects.
Forest ecology is important for understanding biodiversity because forests dominate the natural environment in most of the world, and forests house a substantial proportion of the world’s species. Furthermore, because forests are valuable to humans for the goods and services they produce – particularly wood – many forest ecosystems are managed and transformed extensively by human cultures, causing natural ecological patterns to be disrupted.
Many forests exist where the temperature and soil are conducive to intense agricultural development, and the conversion of forests to farmland alters the biota dramatically. To forecast and mitigate the consequences of forest exploitation and conversion of biodiversity, extensive knowledge of forest ecology is required.
Temperate, tropical, and boreal forests are the three main kinds of forests. According to statistical data by experts, the forest ecology spans nearly one-third of the Earth’s surface.
Temperate forests are found in the middle latitudes, giving them their distinctive four seasons. The zone is dominated by secondary forests, with only a few areas of old-growth temperate forest remaining. Temperate forests covered 16 per cent of the Earth’s total forest cover in 2020.
Although temperate woods share seasonality, annual precipitation and temperature vary greatly. Depending on the area and season, annual temperatures range from -22 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit. Rainfall in temperate woodlands ranges from 30 to 59 inches per year. In general, soils are fertile, containing a thick covering of organic matter from which plants may take nutrients to grow.
Tropical woods, which are found between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn at 23 degrees north and south, are among the most biodiverse ecosystems on the planet. These woods span barely a tenth of the planet’s surface area, yet they are home to half of all species. They are also among the most endangered species due to human activities.
The comparatively steady circumstances in tropical forests have allowed life to flourish. They are the world’s hottest and rainiest woods, with temperatures ranging from 68 to 77 degrees Fahrenheit and annual rainfall ranging from 79 to 394 inches. Tropical woods are well-known for their incredible variety. The Amazon jungle, for example, is home to 10% of all known species on the planet.
Boreal forests, sometimes known as taiga, may be found in North America, Asia, and Europe between 50- and 60-degree latitudes. Land formed by glaciers lies under boreal woods, leaving its mark on the region’s geology, hydrology, and soils. The harsh cold environment of boreal woods makes living difficult, resulting in limited species variety when compared to temperate and tropical forests. Plants and animals that dwell in boreal woods have evolved particular adaptations to deal with short growing seasons and freezing temperatures. Because of their size and isolation, boreal forests are major carbon sinks.
Read More: The forest types of India
Trees and other woody plants make up forest biomes. They are distributed around the globe. Each type of forest has a distinct climate. As a result, each type of forest has various flora and animals that may thrive there.
Ancient plants and arthropods began to populate the area some 420 million years ago, during the Silurian Period. These early land immigrants evolved and adapted to their new environment over millions of years. Giant horsetails, ferns, and club mosses reaching 40 feet in height dominated the early woods.
Gymnosperms first arose in the late Palaeozoic, when life on Earth continued to develop. Gymnosperms dominated the Earth’s woods by the Triassic Period (245-208 Mya). The first flowering plants (angiosperms) developed during the Cretaceous Period (144-65 million years ago). They coevolved with insects, birds, and mammals and spread swiftly, eventually taking over the landscape by the end of the Period. During the Pleistocene Ice Ages, the environment transformed once more: tropical forests that had dominated the earth for millions of years gave way to temperate forests in the Northern Hemisphere.
Forests now cover around one-third of the Earth’s land surface, account for over two-thirds of land plant leaf area, and contain roughly 70% of all carbon contained in living things. Folklore holds them in high regard, and ancient faiths adore them. However, as human populations have grown over the past few thousand years, forests have become significant victims of civilization, resulting in deforestation, pollution, and industrial use issues in this crucial ecosystem.
Forest biomes or biological communities dominated by trees and other woody plants can be classed based on a variety of factors, the most common of which is seasonality. Within each of these main categories, other forest types exist.
Ecosystem analysis is frequently used for management purposes, which necessitates that the types and accuracy of data match the available sources. Ecosystem analysis of a forest can yield estimates of critical variables that are difficult to assess directly using model simulations. For example, one may deduce a balance between climatic conditions, soil water holding capacity, and the maximum leaf area that forests can support using hydrologic equilibrium theory.
The living creatures of the forest make up a forest ecosystem, which extends vertically upward into the air layer surrounding forest canopies and downward to the lowest soil strata influenced by roots and biotic processes. Ecosystem analysis combines biogeochemistry, ecophysiology, and micrometeorology to focus on “the transportation, transformations, and accumulation of matter and energy through the medium of living organisms and their activities.”
Ecosystem ecology is more concerned with the contribution that each complex of species provides to water, carbon, energy, and nutrient transport on the landscape than with species diversity.
Ecosystem studies take into account not just the flow of energy and materials through a forest but also the changes that take place inside it. These alterations provide a measure of the biota’s influence on the system’s behaviour. Forest ecosystems are open systems in that they interchange energy and materials with other systems, such as neighbouring forests, aquatic ecosystems, and the atmosphere. The exchange is necessary for the ecosystem’s long-term survival. A forest ecosystem is never completely balanced, a notion that only applies to isolated systems in the lab.
Read More: Detailed Analysis of Forests
In forestry literature, the term “forest productivity” is frequently used. However, various persons may interpret this phrase differently. The terms cumulative growth and a net yearly increase of forest volume can be used interchangeably.
Odum makes a distinction between primary and secondary production.
Primary productivity: It is the rate at which energy is stored by producer organisms, primarily green plants, through photosynthetic and chemosynthetic activities. The two categories of primary production are further separated.
Gross primary productivity: The whole rate of photosynthesis, including the organic matter used up in respiration during the measuring period, is known as gross primary production.
Net primary productivity: Net primary productivity (NPP) is the rate at which organic matter is stored in plant tissues in excess of the plants’ respiratory use throughout the measuring period.
Secondary Productivity: It is the rate at which animals or decomposers absorb the carbon deposited by primary producers.
Forest productivity is frequently characterized in forestry terms as the standing forest volume at a particular time t, Vt, which is the cumulative growth in stand volume since the stand was established (at t=t0). In studies of forest growth and yield, it is referred to as yield. The term productivity is most commonly used to describe the accumulation of aboveground stem wood in standing trees, although it can also refer to below-ground accumulation.
Vt rises with stand age, and a plot of volume with time has a sigmoid shape that asymptotes near the carrying capacity of the location. Forest productivity is used to estimate existing and future wood supply, plan bio-economy and sustainable forest management, and evaluate current and future forest inventories.
Ecological succession is the process through which the organization of a biological community changes over time. The two forms of succession have been identified: Primary and secondary.
As disturbances of varying intensities, sizes, and frequency modify the landscape, both primary and secondary succession generate a constantly shifting mix of species within communities. The order or the process through which species evolve all throughout the succession is not random.
At each stage, specific species have developed life cycles to take advantage of the community’s unique environment. Because of this, the species makeup of communities changes in a partly predictable order during succession.
Only a tiny number of species from nearby habitats may survive in a damaged environment at first. As new plant species establish themselves, they affect the ecosystem by modifying factors such as ground shadow and soil mineral composition.
These modifications allow for the emergence of new species that are better suited to the altered habitat. Even newer ones then replace these newer species. A comparable succession of animal species occurs, and interactions between plants, animals, and the environment influence the pattern and rate of successional change.
Succession reaches a peak in some ecosystems, resulting in a stable population dominated by a few notable species. This equilibrium, known as the peak community, is hypothesised to occur when the web of biotic interactions becomes so complex that no additional species may enter. Continuous small-scale disruptions in other ecosystems create communities with a wide mix of species, and any species can become dominant.