Module DXX-4517:
Forest Ecology and Resources

Module Facts

Run by School of Natural Sciences

20 Credits or 10 ECTS Credits

Semester 1

Organiser: Prof John Healey

Overall aims and purpose

Students will be introduced to the ecology and policy of world forest resources. They will gain an understanding of the ecological information needed to implement forest policy, and for forest management and conservation: what is known already, what assessment and research methods are used, and how the results can be applied. Applications relate, in particular, to ecosystem services, sustainable forest management, criteria and indicators, and adaptive management. A key feature of the learning outcomes are practical skills in planning, carrying out, and analysing and interpreting the data from three forest assessments: (i) (tree) biodiversity; (ii) tree community and species population composition, structure and dynamics; (iii) natural regeneration and secondary succession. There is a strong emphasis on “learning by doing”.

Course content

The core component of the syllabus focuses on: forest ecology, forest biodiversity and its assessment (ranging from practical tree species identification to analysis and interpretation of inventory data); quantitative forest ecological survey and inventory (covering its purposes, sampling issues, and selection of field measures); forest regeneration and resilience; monitoring changes in forest structure and composition, prediction and modelling. Consideration is given to the identification of factors controlling forest condition and dynamics and the respective roles of structured comparisons and experiments.

To address this the module will cover general principles relevant across a wide range of biomes. For the first half of the syllabus and the three practicals run by JRH (forest ecology) the focus will be primarily on natural forests with high biodiversity, which are dominated by natural dynamic processes. It starts with a brief overview of ecological theory and knowledge applied to forests is then provided, with emphasis on landscape ecology, forest dynamics, ecological diversity of tree species, the ecological basis of silviculture, and the maintenance of biodiversity. This is followed by an overview of Welsh woodlands and their ecology as the context for the setting of the field practicals. Then the focus is on the methods used to assess plant biodiversity, stand structure and dynamics, and analyse and interpret the resulting data. It is designed as a specialist module for which students will require knowledge of plant population and community ecology (from previous study or preparatory reading). Because of the limit of available time the module gives minimal coverage of ecological theory, natural history, animals or UK-specific methodologies. The module is dominated by practical sessions and there is a strong emphasis on “learning by doing”.

The second half of the syllabus starts with an overview of world-forest resources (including the challenges of their definition and classification). It will assess the scale, rates, distribution and causes of deforestation and forest degradation. Then their implication of global and local ecosystem services will be considered. There will be a brief overview of forest policy issues, instruments and initiatives, leading to forest management and conservation. Synthesis of the different components of the module is provided by an assessment of the evidence needs to implement forest policy and for forest management and conservation and how it can be met through forest ecology assessment. Particular attention is paid to participatory approaches, payment for ecosystem services schemes, sustainable and adaptive forest management.

Assessment Criteria


Aware of the key principles underlying the science. Pass level in scientific practical report with calculations, presentation, professional report and exam answers. Basic competence demonstrated in summarising, presenting and discussing the results. Able to work as a member of a team in carrying out simple assessment of plant biodiversity and forest ecology and carrying out simple numerical analysis of the results, research, preparation and presentation. Able to complete basic reports on these activities in the time allocated.


Better understanding of the principles. Reports and presentation show good structure, and summary, presentation and discussion of results. Good understanding demonstrated of issues surrounding sources of error, the implication of the work for the future design of biodiversity and ecological assessments, and possible implications of the results for the conservation management of the studied forest. Insight demonstrated into the key evidence requirements for successful implementation of forest policy, management or conservation. Play a major role in the group enabling it to complete a wide range of data analyses and interpretation and finish competent reports and presentation in the time allocated.


Very good understanding of the science. High level of competence demonstrated in devising and completing reports and presentation, showing a high degree of selectivity in which results are presented and the form of presentation, and in answering exam questions. Demonstration of excellent knowledge of sampling issues including the identification of key points for improved field-assessment design, application of appropriate statistical analyses, insightful conclusions about conservation management of the studied forest. Evidence provided of original thinking about the key challenges of identifying and meeting evidence needs for implementation of forest policy, management or conservation. Play a leading role in the group enabling it to complete a wide range of data analyses and interpretation and finish competent reports and presentation in the time allocated. Evidence of considerable effort and thought.

Learning outcomes

    1. Demonstrate understanding of the ecological information needed to implement forest policy and for forest management and conservation
    1. Analyse and interpret existing information
    1. Plan and carry out plant biodiversity and ecological assessments
    1. Analyse, present and interpret the results
    1. Demonstrate understanding of the principles and use of modelling, monitoring and experimentation
    1. Make recommendations about the application of results for future forest assessment and management

Assessment Methods

Type Name Description Weight
Presentation on Group Research 15
Professional Report 15
Scientific report on group practical work with calculations 50
Module Test 20

Teaching and Learning Strategy


Three all-day field practicals in Coed Dolgarrog National Nature Reserve, Conwy Valley: an excellent example of a biodiverse, complex forest ecosystem now dominated by natural dynamic processes. Working in groups you will gain detailed hands-on practical experience of the ecological methods outlined above.

1st practical will focus on methods of rapid (plant) biodiversity assessment in forests or woodlands. It will focus on appropriate sampling methods (including derivation of a species-area curve); objective and subjective sample location; plot and plotless methods; determination of forest structure through “transect” based approaches. A particular emphasis will be on methods of dealing with plants that cannot be identified to species in the forest. Specimens will be collected and, the following morning, in the lab, any unknown specimens will be identified, key character traits described, and an identification key constructed and tested for all the taxa encountered. From this practical you will gain an increased understanding of spatial variation in forest species composition.

2nd practical will focus on methods of quantitative ecological inventory of plant community and species population composition, structure and dynamics in forests and woodlands. It will also have a focus on appropriate sampling methods (including systematic and random plot-based approaches); sub-plots for smaller size classes; assessment of forest soils. The following morning, in the lab, the data will be analysed to assess species abundance (in terms of the density and dominance (basal area) of each species); community dominance-diversity relationships; forest stand and individual species population size-class distributions; variation in forest structure.

3rd practical will focus on natural regeneration processes in the understorey and in canopy gaps; secondary succession and tree form. The following morning, in the lab, the data will be analysed to yield information on species relative abundance in closed-canopy, gap and old-field habitats; and enable analysis of tree replacement probabilities; modelling of forest dynamics.

Study group

Preparation for two seminar presentations (max of ten hours for each, which might be composed of one hour for group planning, five hours to read papers, one hour for group discussion and three hours to prepare the presentation)

Private study

Revision of syllabus in preparation for exam

Individual Project

Writing up the assessed individual professional report


The class will divide into six 2- or 3-person groups, two of which will select one question from the list provided in each of the first six sections. Before the next class session they will research that topic making use of the Powerpoint presentations and background notes provided on the module blackboard site and the key research papers listed in the reference list for the section. All class members are also expected to make a quick overview of all four questions in each section in order to facilitate discussion during the four minutes after each presentation.

In a seminar in the first hour of the next 2-hour session, each group will have eight minutes to present their answer to the question: because of limitation of time it will be essential to focus selectively on the key points that they identified as most important rather than attempting a comprehensive answer. In providing a critical assessment of the issue it will be good to focus on cross-cutting issues, agreements or contradictions amongst the research papers. You can also raise any issues from the reading which they would like to be clarified, and to discuss these with the rest of the class.


The seventh section of the syllabus (Policy issues, instruments and initiatives) will form the basis for the marked seminar presentation

Group Project

Preparation for assessed seminar and professional report

Group Project

Writing up the assessed individual professional report

Practical classes and workshops

Three half-day laboratory practicals working in groups with the specimens and data collected from the field. Through these you will gain a detailed appreciation of how data analysis and utilization should influence the selection of field inventory methods.


There are 23 hours of lecture/seminar sessions. The syllabus of the module has been divided into approximately eight equal-sized sections. For the first six, the content of each will be introduced in a lecture in the second hour of each 2-hour session. The seventh section is the basis for the assessed presentations. The eighth section of the syllabus (Non-timber forest product resource assessment) will be taught by JLGW in a single two-hour session.


Travel to and from field-work during which there will be presentation and discussion of landscape-scale management and conservation issues


Transferable skills

  • Literacy - Proficiency in reading and writing through a variety of media
  • Numeracy - Proficiency in using numbers at appropriate levels of accuracy
  • Computer Literacy - Proficiency in using a varied range of computer software
  • Self-Management - Able to work unsupervised in an efficient, punctual and structured manner. To examine the outcomes of tasks and events, and judge levels of quality and importance
  • Exploring - Able to investigate, research and consider alternatives
  • Information retrieval - Able to access different and multiple sources of information
  • Inter-personal - Able to question, actively listen, examine given answers and interact sensitevely with others
  • Critical analysis & Problem Solving - Able to deconstruct and analyse problems or complex situations. To find solutions to problems through analyses and exploration of all possibilities using appropriate methods, rescources and creativity.
  • Safety-Consciousness - Having an awareness of your immediate environment, and confidence in adhering to health and safety regulations
  • Presentation - Able to clearly present information and explanations to an audience. Through the written or oral mode of communication accurately and concisely.
  • Teamwork - Able to constructively cooperate with others on a common task, and/or be part of a day-to-day working team
  • Mentoring - Able to support, help, guide, inspire and/or coach others
  • Caring - Showing concern for others; caring for children, people with disabilities and/or the elderly
  • Management - Able to utilise, coordinate and control resources (human, physical and/or financial)
  • Argument - Able to put forward, debate and justify an opinion or a course of action, with an individual or in a wider group setting
  • Self-awareness & Reflectivity - Having an awareness of your own strengths, weaknesses, aims and objectives. Able to regularly review, evaluate and reflect upon the performance of yourself and others
  • Leadership - Able to lead and manage, develop action plans and objectives, offer guidance and direction to others, and cope with the related pressures such authority can result in

Subject specific skills

Ecological assessment methods of forest/woodland tree community structure and composition using a variety of sampling methods. Field identification of woody plant species. Handling plant specimens and their identification using appropriate aids. Visual inspection of forest soils. Measurement of tree fall gap environments. Analysis of plot based tree and vegetation inventory data to calculate simple variables of species' abundance (density, dominance (basal area/cover), size class distributions and relationship with site environment. Interpretation of analysed data from ecological assessments to provide evidence for: assessment of site history and current vegetation dynamics; site and vegetation management to meet sustainable forest management and conservation objectives. Critical assessment of outputs of forest science and policy research. Synthesis of findings from forest science and policy research to address specific questions.


Resource implications for students

Clothing, footwear, food, drink etc. for all-day fieldwork in upland steep terrain.

Talis Reading list

Courses including this module

Compulsory in courses:

Optional in courses: