"Save the trees!" You've probably been hearing this for your entire life, but have you ever wondered why we need to save the trees? Why exactly are Forests important? Other than beauty, what do they provide? Why should you even care?
If you've wondered about the importance of forests, this blog is for you. In it, we will supply you with all the necessary information to truly appreciate how much forests impact your life and well-being. Things like what forests are, what they provide you with, how they impact global climate change and why they are disappearing at such an alarming rate.
What Are Forests?
So, what are Forests? They're just a bunch of trees right? right.....? Well yes, and no. Although forests are trees, they're not just trees. Forests include all the plants, animals, fungi, bacteria and other organisms that live in the area known as a Forest Ecosystem. Trees are the dominant feature, and they often determine what else lives in the ecosystem, but the trees could not live without everything else in the Forest Ecosystem. In nature, everything is connected in complex ways, each part vital to the health and wellness of the entire (eco)system. Forest Ecosystems typically have 3 to 4 distinct layers, which include the forest floor, the understory and the canopy. Some Forests, typically tropical rainforests, also have a fourth layer, known as the emergent layer.
- Forest Floor: The Forest floor is made up of decomposing plants, animal droppings and other detritus. This layer is vital, as it helps produce new soil and provides nutrients to plants, which create the food the rest of the ecosystem needs. They do this through utilizing a mix of nutrients, water and sunlight, in a process known as photosynthesis.
- The Understory: The understory is made up of bushes, shrubs, juvenile trees and other short plants that have adapted to living in the shade of taller trees.
- The Canopy: The canopy is made up of intertwined and overlapping limbs and branches of mature trees. This part of the forest captures the most sunlight and is the most productive part of the trees.
- The Emergent Layer: The Emergent Layer is made up of a small number of the tallest trees, which tower over the canopy like skyscrapers.
Each layer is important to the entire forest, and so are the animals, fungi and bacteria that also live there. Many trees have symbiotic relationships with fungi, through the mycelial network, which has been dubbed "The Wood Wide Web" and can be compared to the internet. This is because trees and other plants can communicate with each other through this system. They can even trade, send and steal nutrients and other chemicals between each other in this same way.
Additionally, a group known as detritivores, that include fungi, along with bacteria and things like earthworms, help transform dead plants and animals into new life. Animals also help forests by processing (via digestion) and transporting their seeds to new areas. Trees also take in nutrients from animal waste, such as scat, urine and their exhaled breath. So you see, forests are trees, but they aren't just trees.
What Do Forests Do For You?
Now you know what Forests are, what do they do for you? Food, shelter and water are really all that is needed to live, but where do these things come from?
The things nature provides for us are known as "Ecosystem Services." According the US Department of Agriculture and the US. Forest Service, Ecosystem Services can be broken down into four broad categories, provisioning, regulating, supporting and cultural services.
- Provisioning Services: Provisioning Services are the things that the forest provides for us. These include food, water, timber, fuel and other goods.
- Regulating Services: Regulating services are systems of checks and balances. Forests play a huge role in things like climate, weather and rainfall.
- Supporting Services: Supporting Services are processes that forests support. These are things like soil formation and nutrient (re)cycling.
- Cultural Services: Cultural Services include things like education, recreation and tourism, as well as heritage and cultural identity.
From the air we breathe, to the houses we live in, forests truly are providing us with what we need to live. Not only do Forest Ecosystems provide us with food, fuel, building materials, clothing and shelter, but did you know that many of the world's medicines and cosmetics originally came from the forests as well?
They also help us relax and and restore ourselves through recreation and they provide income through tourism and their products. Additionally, their roots systems and understory help prevent soil erosion, which can also help rivers and streams stay healthy, they clean the waterways, they help filter the air we breathe, they help keep the earth cool and they even help make rain! They are essential to all living organisms on Earth.
Forests And Climate Change
Beyond food, shelter, cosmetics, medicine, building materials, medicine, fuel, and more, the world's forests also play a crucial role in global climate and weather patterns. Forests are second only to the world's oceans in their ability to store and sequester carbon, making forests a vital component to combating global climate change. Climate change is a complex issue with a multitude of contributing factors, but at its core is the rampant production of greenhouse gases created through modern living. Carbon Dioxide (CO2) is one of the main green house gases.
You can think of greenhouse gases as a big blanket wrapped around the earth that lets sunlight (and heat) in, but only a small fraction back out; trapping it inside the earth's atmosphere. This is a bit like when you leave your windows up in your car on a hot summer day. Upon returning to your car after a few hours, it is sweltering inside. This very process was beneficial in helping to create the warm, fertile earth we know that supports complex life today.
The issue is that we, humans, have offset this delicate balance. As a result, we have changed the average global temperature, affecting global weather patterns and causing more extreme weather phenomena. Yes, some places are getting colder, some hotter, some more wet, some places are experiencing drought, but overall, it is a net rise in global temperature and carbon levels in the atomosphere.
Ok, but how do Forests help fight climate change? Trees use carbon to make their bodies, they are literally made of carbon. And trees are some of the biggest organisms in the world. This allows them to store vast amounts of carbon naturally and continually, more and more, as they grow and get older. For this reason, trees are one of the biggest and best carbon sinks on the planet. In this way, forests play an important role in the global carbon cycle by soaking up lots of carbon dioxide that would otherwise reside in the atmosphere.
For this very same reason, the destruction of the world's forests are detrimental to climate change, the health of the Earth and that of our very species, as well as countless others. Deforestation (and the burning of trees) takes all of this stored carbon and rapidly releases it into the atmosphere. Deforestation is a huge threat to climate and life as we know it.
What Is Deforestation And Why Does It Happen?
Deforestation is the removal or destruction of large areas of forest. Deforestation happens for many reasons, such as illegal logging, ranching and agriculture, natural disasters, like forest fires and flooding, urbanization and mining. Unfortunately, this is a practice that is only increasing with time, usually in the pursuit of capitalism.
Over the last century, the forest cover around the globe has been significantly reduced and compromised, bringing the green cover down to an all-time low of about 30 percent. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), an estimated 18 million acres (7.3 million hectares) of forest are lost each year. The current rate of deforestation is equivalent to 48 football fields every minute!