Wednesday, July 27, 2011

2011: International Year of Forests: Where Forest Meets Meadow

The edge of a forest is a transition zone between two communities.  On one side is the forest, the other can be a field, meadow, or marshy area.  

A field typically describes an area managed by people.  It could include a farmer's crops or it may be some other open area mown or managed in some way.  A meadow is a more wild open area.  Missouri also has tallgrass prairie habitat, which is dependent on natural fires or prescribed burns.  Each habitat type has characteristic plants and animals.  The forest edge is the crossroads for the wildlife from the two neighboring worlds.  It provides a combination of food and cover that is critical to the amount, diversity and quality of an area’s wildlife population.  Creatures from both sides will visit the zone for food, sun, shade and shelter.
 Photo of a forest edge along Highway 21 in Missouri
 Edge quality depends on how gradually the forest becomes a field/meadow.  Many transitions in Missouri are abrupt changes which is not great for wildlife habitat.  Weeds, shrubs, vines, and small trees bordering the two communities provide more food like seeds, berries and insects.  If you are a landowner you can create a gradual forest edge between your field and forest by simply not mowing or managing the border.  Allow a 30-foot or wider strip in between to revert to native plants and shrubs.  Edge effect could be made even better by thinning the trees beyond the border strip.  Leave snags and fruit and nut producing trees.

Common in Missouri, an invasive plant that can overrun the forest edge is Bush, or Asian Honeysuckle, which is native of eastern Asia and was brought to the U.S. to use as an ornamental.  Asian Honeysuckle out-competes native shrubs and reduces understory diversity by creating too much shade for many wildflowers.  Favorable, native, food- producing shrubs and vines that can thrive in the forest edge are blueberry, blackberry, flowering dogwood, raspberry, greenbriar, hazel, grape, witch-hazel, serviceberry, hawthorn and viburnum.

Submitted by Sara Oliver, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist

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