The role of animals in formation and dynamics of forest ecosystems

Luigi Masutti


Forest ecology, in its widest sense, is able to discover the fundamentals of the investigated natural processes as long as it considers the continuous, mutual adaptation between woody plants and fauna adequately, and taking account of the different way in which time, as an essential factor, exerts its influence on the vicissitudes of trees and animals either as individuals or populations. As a whole, it is a matter of an unceasing concurrence of two tendencies: one, typical of the big woody plants, turned to keep a sort of inertia in the biogeocoenose, the other, typical of the animal component, evoking a lasting dynamism in the functions of the ecosystem. In the general picture of the relations between the two complexes of organisms, it is possible to recognise the steps of succession from which the origin, development, decline and disappearance of the natural woods arise. In the history of various sorts of forests’ beginning, the zoochory is much less casual than what is usually believed; it widely influences even the constitution of the «minor» woody species complex, especially because of birds’ intervention. Many animals contribute to modify the composition and structure of woods whose condition seems to be steady. Besides the consequences of the increasing presence of ungulates, the secondary effects of certain phytophagans’ outbreaks are often crucial and unexpected. On their whole, the species which are destroying the seaside pine or had eliminated the Italian stone pine from various coasts or facilitated the endangering  spread of the Dutch elm disease have become dramatically important throughout the Italian territory since long time. But also the action of wild and even domestic mammals can affect the forest stands’ sort in a decisive way. Moreover there is a problem not new, but surely aggravated and destined to assume an increasing importance owing to the intensification and acceleration of the wide range transports. Introduced alien animal species, insects most of all, force the enviromental resistance and start up situations never occurred before in the forest ecosystems. In the future, only the foresters having had a sound grounding in biology can face the necessity of keeping intact the processes giving rise to the dynamic conservation of the wealth of woods.


animals; forest ecosystems;

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