Hooray for Trees!
Ask any grade school student what a tree gives us and you will get answers like: shade, wood, maybe even oxygen. And they would be right; trees do give us all of these. But trees are also vital to animals and their habitats as well.
For example, a forest is nothing without its trees. They are one of its defining features. Trees offer animals protection from weather, a hiding place from predators, and a place to raise young. But trees shelter more than just the animals. Their very presence creates an environment that allows the growth of plants that otherwise would not be there. Along rivers and lakes, branches provide shade, reducing the water temperature, while the root systems hold shorelines together and create homes for many aquatic species. A tree is also an important food source. It can provide food directly in the form of flowers, leaves, fruits, and seeds, as well as indirectly by serving as a home for multitudes of insect species. Many small mammals use the crevices in bark or roots as pantries, storing gathered food for winter.
And not just living trees, dead trees are useful too. Standing dead trees, called snags, are important to many animals because they provide sites for nesting, roosting, foraging, and other activities. Nationwide, dead trees provide vital habitat for more than 1,000 different species. In some forests, as much as 30-45% of bird species are dependent on snags for nesting cavities. Birds of prey often use a snag’s higher branches as look-out points while hunting. Fallen logs become home to colonies of insects, cover for reptiles and amphibians, as well as protect the soil from surface erosion. As those logs decompose, they provide moisture for the growth of young trees and fungi. The nutrients released during decomposition can then become the building blocks for other plants.
Any food web relies on support at its base to thrive. Take away the trees, you take away the support. So consider the source the next time you are enjoying an apple or resting in the shade on a hot summer day. Take a moment to thank the trees.
Article by Jennifer Hunnell, Program Coordinator, Michigan Arbor Day Alliance