The Importance of Trees

Summer Afternoon


Someone posed this question on Quora:

What is the importance of trees in a forest?

I answered the question this way:

While you wouldn’t have a forest without trees, I suspect the question is more about the role of trees in the forested ecosystem. It’s a complicated ecosystem, so let me offer a few examples:

  1. They temper weather conditions. Their foliage and trunks provide shade and humidity that reduces summer heat and protects from winter winds. That makes them a good place to shelter a wide variety of wildlife.
  2. They provide food including fruits, seeds and even foliage for wildlife. Through interactions with fungi, for example, they support the growth of mushrooms that many animals eat. By providing shelter for many types of wildlife, they facilitate a whole predator/prey dynamic.
  3. Their roots and the protective action of their foliage tends to stabilize soil and reduce erosion and the kind of landslides that are so common after forest fires. They also build soil as they fall and degrade.

Even outside of the forested environment itself, trees are important in a lot of ways. For example carbon sequestration while the trees are growing (CO2 is released as the trees begin to die and degrade), water cycling, and oxygen production. They are also known to filter pollutants from the air and reduce ozone levels in cities.

From a human perspective, people can live pretty well in forests, just like other animals. Research continues to support the notion that being in forests and other natural landscapes is really good for mental health. Further, properly managed forests can provide a sustainable source of building materials.

Those are just a few ideas that suggest the importance of trees. For a lot more details and a bibliography see:…


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