Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Tree Plantations as Biological Deserts

If I had a nickel for every time a biologist told me that tree plantations are nothing but “biological deserts” I’d be a rich man!

Well, at least a rich-er man anyway…

Industrial tree plantations can be ugly places for those with an eye for the natural beauty offered by mature and diverse forested ecosystems. Plantations are more-often-than-not composed of crowded, densely spaced trees, predominantly of the same species, age, size and condition. The soil surface on which these monocultures stand is heavily disturbed, rutted, bedded & rowed, and laden with fertilizers and herbicides. The compounding effect of these characters alters hydrology, impedes the advance of recruiting plants and strongly restricts use by wildlife.

When compared to pristine natural forests, plantations are like ‘biological deserts;’ but what about when they’re compared to a sprawling urban landscape or an agricultural pasture? What if the plantation’s location in the landscape serves as a corridor for wildlife between a developed residential area and more pristine habitat at a distance?

Plantations do offer important ecosystem services and can often maintain critical ecological functions…

Replace natural forests with plantations? – No, I’ll fight you to my last breath!

Replace agricultural pasture, or a sprawling city-scape with plantations? – I’ll help you plant the trees!

A recently published review by Alain Paquette and Christian Messier has just found its way into a stack of papers I keep as ammunition against the overly broad characterization of plantations as worthless biological deserts (a claim usually made by biostitutes hired to devalue a chunk of land for the financial gain of the owners).

Check it out:
Paquette, A., & Messier, C. (2010). The role of plantations in managing the world's forests in the Anthropocene Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 8 (1), 27-34 DOI: 10.1890/080116

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