Environment Planet Earth Understanding Forest Ecosystems and Biodiversity By Steve Nix Steve Nix Writer University of Georgia Steve Nix is a member of the Society of American Foresters and a former forest resources analyst for the state of Alabama. Learn about our editorial process Updated December 26, 2018 Share Twitter Pinterest Email Diane Diederich/Photodisc/Getty Images Planet Earth Outdoors Weather Conservation A forest ecosystem is the basic ecologic unit in a particular forest that exists as "home" for a community of both native and introduced classified organisms. A forest ecosystem is named for the primary tree species that form the canopy. It is defined by all the collective living inhabitants of that forest ecosystem that co-exist together in symbiosis to create a unique ecology. In other words, a forest ecosystem is typically associated with land masses covered in trees and those trees are often classified by foresters into forest cover types. Examples of just a few broad names in North America are The northern hardwood ecosystem, the ponderosa pine ecosystem, the bottomland hardwood forest ecosystem, the jack pine forest ecosystem and so on. The forest ecosystem is just one of a number of unique ecosystems including prairies, deserts, polar regions, and great oceans, smaller lakes, and rivers. Forest Ecology and Biodiversity The word "ecology" comes from the Greek "oikos," meaning "household" or "place to live". These ecosystems or communities are usually self-sustaining. The word "usually" is used because some of these communities can become unbalanced very quickly when detrimental factors occur. Some ecosystems, like tundra, coral reefs, wetlands, and grasslands are very fragile and very small changes can affect their health. Larger ecosystems with wide diversity are much more stable and somewhat resistant to harmful changes. A forest ecosystem community is directly related to species diversity. Generally, you can assume that the more complex the structure, the greater is its species diversity. You should remember that a forest community is much more than just the sum of its trees. A forest is a system that supports interacting units including trees, soil, insects, animals, and man. How a Forest Ecosystem Matures Forest ecosystems tend to always be moving toward maturity or into what foresters call a climax forest. This maturing, also called forest succession, of the ecosystem increases diversity up to the point of old age where the system slowly collapses. One forestry example of this is the growth of trees and the entire system moving toward an old growth forest. When an ecosystem is exploited and exploitation is maintained or when components of the forest begin to naturally die, then that maturing forest ecosystem goes into declining tree health. Management of forests for sustainability is desirable when forest diversity is threatened by overuse, resource exploitation, old age, and poor management. Forest ecosystems can be disrupted and harmed when not properly sustained. A sustained forest that is certified by a qualified certification program gives some assurance that the forest is managed to allow maximum diversity while satisfying the manager's environmental and economic demands. Scientists and foresters have dedicated their entire careers trying to understand even a small part of forest ecosystems. Complex forest ecosystems are extremely diverse, ranging from dry desert shrub land to large temperate rain forests. These natural resource professionals have categorized forest ecosystems in North America by placing them into forest biomes. Forest biomes are broad categories of natural tree/plant communities.