Trees are an important element of the landscape for wildlife from seed to dirt. A tree's life cycle moves from seed to seedling to tree to snag to decaying to dirt. Along the pathway, wildlife and other plants are depending on the tree.
Shel Silverstein’s book, The Giving Tree, is a great way to explore the life cycle of a tree.
Trees support the lives of many large organisms. Trees are used for food, shelter, and sites for reproduction. Many animals also use trees for resting, nesting and for places from which to hunt or capture prey.
When the trees mature, animals are able to enjoy delicious fruits and foraging opportunities. During times of extreme heat or precipitation, animals can seek shade and shelter under the trees without being away from their food source.
Young trees can provide food for animals as well but need to be managed to ensure a percentage of new trees can grow and are not fully consume by wildlife.
Standing dead and dying trees, called “snags”” are important for wildlife in both natural and landscaped settings, occurring as a result of disease, lightning, fire, animal damage, too much shade, drought, root competition, as well as old age.
Birds, small mammals, and other wildlife use snags for nests, nurseries, storage areas, foraging, roosting, and perching. Live trees with snag-like features, such as hollow trunks, excavated cavities, and dead branches can provide similar wildlife value. Snags occurring along streams and shorelines eventually may fall into the water, adding important woody debris to aquatic habitat. Dead branches are often used as perches; snags that lack limbs are often more decayed and, may have more and larger cavities for shelter and nesting. Snags enhance local natural areas by attracting wildlife species that may not otherwise be found there.
Decaying logs retain moisture and nutrients that aid in new plant growth and support wildlife such as soil organisms (earthworms, beetles, and other insects). Young trees may sprout from a single downed limb known as a nurse log. The soft wood tissue of a nurse log offers an ideal substrate for many young trees during their initial growth and development. Logs also store energy and fix nitrogen. Furthermore, dead wood serves as a ground cover, lessening soil erosion and preventing animals such as deer from over-browsing plant seedlings.
Wildlife trees become softer as fungi, bacteria, and wood boring insects eat and break down the wood.
Many different types of wildlife depend on trees for food, water, cover, or places to raise their young. You can help by planting trees and creating wildlife habitat in your community for wildlife—like some of these:
You can symbolically adopt wildlife and support the Trees for Wildlife™ program.
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