Posted by: chrismaser | September 24, 2009



How Forests Function


Chris Maser, Andrew W. Claridge, and James M. Trappe


We have joined to address the ever-unfolding story of forest development on two disparate continents—North America and Australia. Chris, an American, has research experience in North America, Europe, Asia, and North Africa. Although Andrew, an Australian, has carried out most of his investigations in his native Australia, he also has experience in the United States. Jim, an American, has conducted much research in the United States, Europe, and collaborated for more than a decade in Australia with Andrew. The century of experience accumulated among the three of us has led to the ideas explored here.

As you read this book, please remember that we are telling it as we understand it. We cannot do any other way, because we interpret what we see through the filters of our own experiences and perceptions, which is all any of us can do.


A forest in the Cascade Mountains of Western Oregon, USA

The forest is at once a microcosm of the continuum between the infinitesimal, as seen through an electron microscope, and the infinite beyond our grasp. This dimension of scale is important, because it adds greatly not only to our perception of diversity in the landscape, but also bolsters our perception of the way one part of the landscape relates to another in terms of the biophysical principles that govern life.


An Australian forest in the southeastern part of the continent.

Among the three of us, we have experienced the boreal forest near the Arctic tree line, as well as the coniferous, deciduous, and mixed forests of the Northern Hemisphere; the tropical forests bordering the equator; and the forests of southern Chile and Australia in the Southern Hemisphere. While these forests appear radically different above ground, they are amazingly similar in how they function below ground. To convey the true nature of these seemingly disparate forests required that we become knowledgeable enough about two widely dissimilar geographical areas in order to demonstrate how the global forest ecosystem functions. For this purpose, we have chosen the Pacific northwestern United States (Figure 1) and the southeastern part of mainland Australia (Figure 2).

The continents of the Northern Hemisphere and those of the Southern Hemisphere, once joined in the supercontinent of Pangaea, were separated by movement of the Earth’s tectonic plates some 180 million years ago. Fragmentation of Pangaea occurred long before many of the present organisms were archived in the fossil record.

Australia has been isolated from the other continents for approximately 85 million years. Consequently, its indigenous plants and animals are totally distinct from those of North America. Nevertheless, the ecosystems of both continents function in much the same way:  evolution—the ultimate open-ended experiment—independently arrived at the same biophysical “solutions” to each forest’s infrastructural processes on both continents.

Generally speaking, infrastructure is the part of a forest that simultaneously allows the components to interact with one another and facilitates their ensuing interrelationships in a systemic manner. Infrastructure serves as a means of transferring energy from one part of a forest to another. In essence, the forest infrastructure is composed of subsets of microsystems and megasystems of energy interchange, with every gradation in between, and with fractal-like complexity, seemingly ad infinitum.

The active complexity of a forest defies a neat definition and thereby renders the very term, “forest,” all but useless. Nevertheless, it’s a word we must work with, and by incorporating infrastructure, design, complexity, evolution, and interdependency into our working definition, we can begin to approach the true concept. And it’s by connecting the linkages among these components of the biophysical system that, in the last analysis, makes a forest, a forest.


“Accurate and authentic, Trees, Truffles, and Beasts:  How Forests Function makes a major contribution to the field of natural resource management. This is a clear and compelling argument that there’s much more to forests than meets the eye.”—Jim Furnish Deputy Chief for National Forest System (ret.)
USDA Forest Service.

“Lucidly written and accessible to professionals and the general public alike, the authors adeptly tease out the intimate details and fascinating ecological interactions of a world hidden within the soil. I highly recommend this book for a fascinating glimpse into the wondrous web of life and complex ecological relationships that sustain our natural forests.”—Alan Watson Featherstone Executive Director 
Trees for Life 
Findhorn Bay, Forres, Scotland.

“Sustainable ecosystem policy requires understanding the complexity and interconnectedness of species and habitats. The central theme of Trees, Truffles, and Beasts is the explanation of the complicated webs of interactions, both physical and biological in these systems. Drawing upon personal experience and research on two continents, Maser (zoologist and environmental consultant), Claridge (Dept. of Environment and Conservation, New South Wales, Australia), and Trappe (Oregon State [University]) give a broad overview of forest ecosystems and their workings. It is lively reading. Here one learns about how ecologists look at the various components and activities in a forest ecosystem. Readers are introduced to topics such as the formation of soil, the biological processes that take place in the soil, and the organisms that live there. The book provides excellent coverage of the symbiosis between trees, fungi, and animals, an overarching theme. The role of fire is forest ecosystems forms another thrust. The changes in forests over time and the implications of change in the managed landscapes are both elucidated and placed in the context of human uses of the land. Few works take these personal views into account to give such a holistic view of the forested landscape. Summing up:  Highly recommended. All public, general, and undergraduate libraries.”—D.H. Pfister Harvard University
Choice (2009).

Photo of Cascade forest © by Chris Maser, 2009. All rights reserved.

Trees, Truffles, and Beasts:  How Forests Function. 2008. Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, NJ. 288 pp. (Senior author with Andrew W. Claridge and James M. Trappe.)

If you want more information about this book or want to purchase it, visit “BOOKS” on my website.

If you want to contact me, you can visit my website. If you wish, you can also read an article about what is important to me and/or you can listen to me give a presentation.

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