INTRODUCTION: Clearcutting, earth scouring, pesticide sprays, herbicide sprays, forest plantation monocultures … all actions that destroy our natural forests. The complex forest food web is generally understood by trained biologists, but if you don’t have that background, how can we explain the complex ecosystem that exists in a healthy forest and why we need to change the way we manage our vital forest resources? I think the following infographic created by Molly Danielsson does just that. Granted her work shows how the forest web contributed to the health and growth of a fruit tree, but the principal remains the same for other forest trees.
It’s true, even this may seem complicated so let’s just take a closer look at this “Web of Life”. With apologies to Molly, I’ve modified her words somewhat.
The forest web of life engages plants, animals and fungi and in a stable natural forest we find pest control, weed control, natural fertilizers, water management and a beautiful cool space for everyone. Let’s follow the illustration from the top left.
BUILDING SOIL: Natural fertilizers are created when insects, worms, fungi and other soil life eat decomposed leaves, limbs, trees and even animals, creating topsoil filled with the precious nutrients that plants can easily absorb. As trees absorb soil nutrients and water they also pull up essential minerals that have been trapped in the rocks.
WATER, WATER … PRECIOUS WATER: We are all aware of the increasing severity of floods created by the clearcutting of our forests. Anyone who has been fortunate enough to visit a virgin forest will comment on the amazing change you encounter when you walk into a cool, damp, shaded forest that is virtually devoid of weeds.
Did you know that raindrops can fall at 30 miles per hour and that they can break apart and crush exposed soil? Not so in a virgin forest with a canopy of leaves and a growth of plants on the forest floor. These layers of plants slow down the speeding raindrops and lessen their impact. In addition, mulch created from leaves and wood particles, protects the soil’s delicate networks of roots, sand, organic matter and fungal roots and, like a carbon filter, soil with a lot of organic content cleans storm waters.
FLOODS: The forest soils of virgin forests are fabulous natural sponges that absorb and maintain water for plants and animals throughout the dry summer. They also reduce the excessive runoff that produces destructive spring floods.
PROTECTING REPRODUCTION: In addition to habitat for trees, plants and large animals, the forest also builds habitat for insect predators and pollinators.
Plants of the virgin forest produce fruits, flowers and seeds and there are many species of insects that provide these plants with pollination services and protection against predators like aphids and leafhoppers.
RESTORATION: It is clearly understood that our forests are vital to a healthy planet and this infographic tells us why. Perhaps it’s time to rebuild our forest management strategy to ensure we and our children can enjoy a health community and planet?
Art MacKay, 3/17/2020 with thanks to Molly Danielsson