Saturday, 19 February 2011
When I did my field botany in university, I found out that the old saw can't see the forest for the trees has more than a bit of truth. If all you notice is the trees when you're studying a forest, then you're not going to get very far. Amongst many other things, it's important to study the layers. Each forest has several strata, and each stratum affects what happens in the stratum beneath it. Each layer blocks out some of the light and some of the moisture from the next one, but each layer also provides shelter to the next. If one of the layers suddenly goes missing (say, because of clear-cutting or a massive wind storm), the remaining can't function the way they've evolved to. The forest inevitably changes.
Because of the relatively open canopy of a deciduous forest there may be a whole whack (scientifically speaking -- ha!) of layers beneath the trees, each with its own distinctive plants and animals. In the more closed canopy of a conifer forest, things can look pretty barren in comparison.
This is the kind of thing that makes my brain happy, but I'm probably boring the snot out of a few people by now so I'll stop here. Next time you're out for a walk in the forest, though, why not see if you can recognise its layers? When you start to think of things horizontally instead of vertically it can certainly give you a different view of the workings.