My first thoughts were of the different species of trees which occur depending upon the climatic conditions, topography and soil types which occur throughout the states. We were observing completely different forest makeups than northern hardwood types I have been visiting the past 20 years, and certainly, very different from the western conifer and aspen types found in the state of Wyoming. Yes, the complexity of natural forest makeup is obvious on a large scale, depending on what part of our continent you are visiting. Natural diversity begins with the understanding of these broad scale differences in forest types. Most everyone is aware of these unique differences and certainly scientists have recognized the various vegetative types for centuries. Nothing new but, diversity does not stop here!
We entered the forest and I began to point out the unique communities that makeup the forest. Within 1/4 of a mile, we observed 4 different communities. The first was a steep hillside with an intermittent stream at the bottom. It was west facing and the soils were very damp. There was a mix of maple, oak and white pine trees with a few hemlock close to the stream. It was a second growth stand with a wide range of age classes present, from seedlings to adult trees, probably about 80 years old.
When we walked up to the top, the land flattened and, we were standing in a community of predominately post oak trees. The trees were smaller in diameter and considerably shorter. The soil was very dry and obviously far less productive. Ground vegetation was prevalent and there was little evidence of wildlife use. Walking to the north the land began to slope abruptly into a ravine with a north facing aspect. We now were seeing a mix of adult red oak, white oak, an occasional maple, a couple of tulip poplars and an occasional white pine. A mixture of age classes were present with the parent trees again in the 80 year old class. The community was obviously second growth and regenerated by natural seed sources from mother trees that had died and for the most part, were slowly turning into humus.
Finally, we encountered a community of conifer trees. There were three large short leaf pine mother trees, which had provided a significant seed source for young short leaf pine saplings that covered about 10 acres that had been cleared, probably, for a landing during previous logging activities. We did find a few trees that looked to have been planted and non-indigenous to the area, possibly Austrian pine. The young trees were far to close together resulting in no ground vegetation or hardwood saplings mixed in. Other than hiding cover, the community was a biological dessert for wildlife in the area.
Yes, diversity can be observed on the large scale but, it is the recognition of the complex diversity within the unique communities which makeup the forests, that is critical for proper management of our remaining forests! Failure to change our management goals, from what we take from the forests, to maintaining and enhancing health and diversity of our limited remaining forested lands, will result in major adverse impacts on life on our planet. Our current management goals are driven by economics and greed with our focus on how much we can produce and take from these valuable lands. Advancements in technology has allowed us to harvest forest products on a large scale but, it has resulted in an increased rate of destruction of our life sustaining natural world.
The complexity of creation is amazing but, failure to observe and understand the natural world is not acceptable and will not provide a desirable future!