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Managing for a Whole Forest: The Forest Floor & Below

Processes that occur at or below the forest floor play a key role in the health of the forest.  At this level tree roots and a complex web of fungi and bacteria participate in building the forest soil.  In conifer forests some of the nitrogen-fixing fungi are primary providers in enriching the forest soil. Wildlife droppings also provide forest fertilizer. One vole pellet can contain 15,000-25,000 nitrogen-fixing bacteria.  

Bob Jackson did a study on a tenth of an acre where he collected the annual needles,  leaves, cones, and small branchs that fell from the trees. It amounted to over one ton per acre per year of organic matter/fertilizer.  

Organic matter in the soil acts as a sponge that holds water many weeks after mineral soil dries out.  Shade on the forest floor is vital to retaining moisture through dry periods of the year. Another simple study Bob did was to measure the temperature differences between intensities of shade and no shade.  On June 21st (the longest day of the year) he put out three thermometers: one in the deep shade of the trees, one in the shade of the grass, and one on bare ground in the sun.  The thermometer in the deep shade showed 45 degrees F, the thermometer in the shade of the grass showed 73 degrees F, and the theromometer on bare ground maxed out at 130 degrees F.

Of course the forest floor also provides other benefits for us to enjoy such as the morel mushrooms below.