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Trees Stimulate Biodiversity

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations states that “Biodiversity for food and agriculture is indispensable to food security and sustainable development”, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recognizes the “intrinsic value of biodiversity, irrespective of human needs and interests”.

These international organizations, along with many other reputable groups and publications, place great importance on biodiversity.  What biodiversity is, how it can help our planet, and how trees factor into this equation are all very important topics to explore.

First, biodiversity is simply the variability among living organisms.  This could refer to the difference between animals and fungi, or even small genetic differences between two very similar trees. Tropical rainforests are the most biodiverse areas on earth and images of the Amazon are often associated with the popular term “biodiversity”.

This variety of life is commonly touted as a climate savior and there are many reasons for these lofty claims. One particularly poignant reason is the role that biodiversity plays in the resilience of an ecosystem to climate change. Rising temperatures and increasingly common severe weather events put immense pressure on our natural world. Biodiverse areas can withstand these challenges better. The greater the variation in an ecosystem, the greater the chance some organisms possess the necessary qualities to survive and pass those resilient genes along to future generations.

Conservation of our most biodiverse areas is crucial to the health of our earth. The carbon sequestered in the soil along with the abundant and resilient variety of life make these areas invaluable factors in the earth’s wellbeing. It is extremely important to preserve these already existing biodiverse ecosystems, but in certain situations land has already been devastated by poor agricultural practices or climate change related factors. In these instances, planting trees can be the first step towards regaining some of this lost biodiversity.

One of the main reasons that trees are such a good starting place is that they create a habitat for other organisms to thrive. In the tropical rainforest mentioned above, a majority of the biodiversity is contained in the canopies of the trees. This upper portion of the trees creates a protected place for insects, epiphytes (plants growing on other plants without stealing their resources), and arboreal animals. The establishment of organisms in this zone leads to the development of new habitats, prey, and nutrients that can in turn draw in even more organisms.

Trees also facilitate biodiversity by improving soil quality. Extensive root growth stabilizes the surrounding soil and prevents erosion and water runoff. The presence of underground roots and decomposing tree material adds nutrients to the soil. These soil improvements create a good habitat for a variety of microorganisms which are beneficial to plant growth. Trees also provide shade and wind protection to the local ecosystem. Pollinators are attracted to flowering trees and will develop populations in these areas. These environmental changes can create microclimates which allow plants and animals to thrive in an area they would have previously avoided.

These concepts translate to food production. A biodiverse field shows benefits to productivity and sustainability. The inclusion of trees into these systems is called “Agroforestry”. Sometimes trees are planted in a line to block intense winds, other times they are used to attract pollinators for a specific plant of importance, and other times they may be planted primarily due to their soil improvement qualities.

The ability of trees to influence biodiversity is a valuable tool in efforts to improve natural areas, fight food insecurity, and develop sustainable and productive ecosystems.


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