Forest Ecology 2024-25
School of Environmental & Natural Sciences
Module - Semester 1
Examples of key questions that motivate this forest ecology module include: • How can we ensure that forests make the greatest possible contribution to meeting the challenges of both the climate and biodiversity crises? • In the face of the high rates of deforestation and degradation of forests worldwide, including the impact of climate change and invasive species, how can we most effectively conserve biodiversity in the forests that remain? • What evidence base is needed to achieve sustainable management of resilient woodlands, with a strong capacity to resist and recover from disturbance through natural regeneration: is there a strong case for “nature-based solutions”? • How convincing is the evidence for rewilding, through natural succession, as a strategy for establishment or restoration of woodland ecosystems? As a policy maker, manager, scientist, practitioner (or indeed informed consumer and voter), to answer these kinds of questions you will need to understand the ecology of the natural resources for which you are responsible. As the primary producers, and structural and biomass dominants of forests, trees play the central role in the properties of forest habitats, which host the greatest richness of animal biodiversity on earth. In turn the animals play crucial “top-down” roles in determining the structure and function of forest ecosystems, including through herbivory, pollination and seed dispersal of the trees. DXX-3301 focuses on the interaction of these components, with an emphasis on the dynamics of the ecosystem, as explained in the “educational aims” section below. “Learning by doing” in field practicals, interpretation of the data you collect, and group research, presentation and discussion of key questions, are key to the learning in this module.
Lectures and learning seminars: Pattern and process in forests; the ecology of natural and human disturbance. Vegetation succession (mechanisms, models, impact on forest structure and composition, applications). The forest regeneration cycle (especially seed production and dispersal, gap phase, thinning, the regeneration niche). Ecological variation amongst plant species, including: its architectural and ecophysiological basis; response to global and local environmental change; applications to forest management. Forest mammals: geographical and habitat distribution; role in food webs. The global issue of invasive species, focussing on impacts in forest habitats. Disturbance effects on forest mammals; ecologically-based approaches to the management of invasive species. Forests and trees as habitat, their landscape ecology, habitat and species conservation and restoration.
Practicals: Pattern and process in forests, vegetation succession, tree populations and regeneration, application to forest restoration and management; primary succession and its application to the ecological restoration of derelict industrial sites, environmental factors limiting the establishment of vegetation, comparative ecology of tree species and the impact of disturbance.
Assessed seminars: A series of ca. 27 key current questions in forest wildlife conservation/management will be introduced. Each pair of students will pick one question and research, present and discuss their answer in the subsequent assessed seminar.
Threshold - Grade D- to D+: Aware of the basic principles underlying the science as outlined in learning outcomes 1, 3 and 4. Basic awareness of how assessment is made in the field of: the structure of forest stands and of tree populations, association between vegetation and environmental variables, and the status of wildlife populations, and of how the resulting data can be analysed and interpreted. Basic competence demonstrated in summarising and interpreting the results of the field practicals. Able to work as a member of a team in carrying out simple field assessment of vegetation and tree and mammal populations. Leading to overall pass level percentage in the module examination. Ability to make an adequate presentation visually and verbally (in a group) and in document form (individually) the findings from literature-based research into a forest wildlife conservation/management topic in a form professionally appropriate to a defined stakeholder institution, group or individual (outcome 2).
Good - Grade C- to B+: Better understanding of the principles as evidenced by an ability to explain the major aspects of the science (outcomes 1, 3 and 4). Ability to distinguish well-founded, and erroneous statements concerning forest ecology, the "natural" status of forests, the dynamic condition of natural forests, the ecological basis for silviculture and the role of mammals in the ecology and management of forests. Ability to explain the major components of current theories concerning vegetation succession, forest dynamics, the maintenance of (plant) species diversity in natural systems; mammalian population biology and forest habitat interactions. Ability to recognise where ecology has been applied successfully, or unsuccessfully, in the management and conservation of forests. Ability to carry out a field assessment within a previously encountered vegetation/mammal type of: the structure of forest stands and of tree populations, association between vegetation and environmental variables, and the status of mammal populations, and of how the resulting data can be analysed and interpreted. Ability to carry out straight-forward analysis and interpretation of resulting data from a vegetation/mammal type already covered well by existing literature. Good understanding demonstrated of issues surrounding sources of error, the design of ecological surveys and their application for conservation management. Play a major role in the group enabling it to complete the field work and analyses to a good standard and on time. Ability to make a good presentation visually and verbally (in a group) and in document form (individually) the findings from literature-based research into a forest wildlife conservation/management topic in a form professionally appropriate to a defined stakeholder institution, group or individual (outcome 2).
Excellent - Grade A- to A**: Very good understanding of the science showing broad comprehension as evidenced by an ability to interpret relevant information critically, to recognise implications, to identify connections with other areas of knowledge and synthesise between them; knowledge spanning a wide range of relevant examples (outcomes 1, 3 and 4). Able to explain well and critically the strengths and weaknesses of alternative successional models, theories of the maintenance of plant species richness, and theories of the historical role of mammals in British forests/woodlands and the implications of this for their natural condition. Evidence of an ability to plan an ecological/population assessment of a type of vegetation/mammal not previously encountered, and to carry out analysis and interpretation of survey data in the absence of existing literature. Demonstration of excellent understanding of ecological sampling issues including key points for improved field-survey design, application of appropriate data analyses, and insightful conclusions about conservation management of the studied vegetation/mammals. Play a leading role in the group enabling it to complete the field work and analyses in the time allocated. Evidence of considerable effort and thought. Ability to make an excellent presentation visually and verbally (in a group) and in document form (individually) the findings from literature-based research into a forest wildlife conservation/management topic in a form professionally appropriate to a defined stakeholder institution, group or individual (outcome 2).
- Ability to present visually, verbally and in document form the findings from literature-based research into a forest wildlife conservation/management topic in a form professionally appropriate to a defined stakeholder institution, group or individual.
- Be able to evaluate the main processes and mechanisms determining the structure and dynamics of forests, assess critically the scientific methods used to research this, and propose methods that would be suitable in different circumstances
- Capacity to make recommendations on the application of advanced forest ecological knowledge to forest and environmental assessment, management, conservation and restoration
- Demonstrate advanced skills in the analysis of the effect of woodland/forest management practices on habitats, plant and animal populations, and (conversely) the impact of mammals and invasive species on woodlands/forests
Exam (Centrally Scheduled)
INDIVIDUAL WRITTEN REPORT ON GROUP RESEARCH
PRESENTATION ON GROUP RESEARCH ON FOREST WILDLIFE TOPIC