Station 7: The Living Forest
A forest is composed of various plants and animals living together. Populations of each species, whether they be plant or animal, will have individuals of all ages, from infant to old. Populations of trees may even have dead trees called snags. A healthy forest will have balanced proportions of its inhabitants, and individual plants will have sufficient space to grow without competition for soil nutrients, water, and sunlight. Plant succession will proceed toward climax in the absence of natural disturbances such as fire or human disturbances such as timber harvest.
Without disturbances to maintain these balanced proportions, selected species may become too densely populated. Consequently, the chance for infestations of insects, diseases, or catastrophic wildfire will increase. These processes retard plant succession from achieving climax vegetation. Habitat is “home” for any living thing and provides food, shelter (also known as cover), water, and living space. Generally, the diverse forest vegetation provides food and cover for the variety of wildlife that inhabits the forest. For example, ruffed grouse and deer primarily eat buds and twigs, whereas finches and sparrows eat seeds. Red squirrels cache tree cones for later use during harsh winters. Standing trees provide habitat for insects and spiders, which are eaten by chickadees. Three-toed woodpeckers and black-backed woodpeckers feed almost exclusively on bark and wood-boring beetles. Nearly all infant birds need animal protein from insects to grow. Forest plants provide security cover for animals to rest or roost, escape cover from predators including people, protective cover from extreme weather, and reproductive cover for giving birth and rearing young. Each animal species has its unique habitat requirements and relies upon different plant species to provide its needs.