FRST 202 (3 cr): Forest Ecology

FRST 202

Course Outline

  • Six assignments
  • Final exam

Course Description

Forestry 202 examines the form and functioning of forest ecosystems and the interaction of organisms with their physical and biotic environment. It also provides an introduction to the Ecosystem concept; energy biomass and nutrient recycling; the physical environment; population and community ecology; succession, the biogeoclimatic classification of B.C., and some coastal forest ecosystems. The material covered in the course constitutes the ecological basis for silviculture and forest management.

Please Note: Although 3 credits, due to the extensive fieldwork required, the duration of this course will be 6 months.

Co requisite: 1 of FRST 111: Dendrology, and FRST 200: Forest Plant Biology and  APBI 200: Introduction to Soil Science.

Intended Student

On-campus students of Forestry 202 have already completed (or are taking concurrently) courses in basic sciences, dendrology, climatology and soil science. Therefore, distance education students who have taken Forestry 111, Geography 214 and Soil Science 200 or their equivalents will have the best preparation for this course. In order to complete Forestry 202 successfully, you should be able to read critically and express your written ideas competently and concisely.

Course Objectives

This course will take you on a journey of discovery into the complexities and ecological beauty of forest ecosystems.

A vision for the course – by the end of the course you will:

  • understand the urgency of a transition from both forest exploitation and rigid, regulation-bound, administrative forestry to a relationship to forests based on a respect for nature, our place in it, and the ecology of the values we wish to sustain.
  • be an ecological detective, able to read the ecological clues that inform us about the past, instruct us about the present, and forecast the future of forests.
  • have the ability to recognize, describe, analyze, interpret and predict forest ecosystems, and to assess issues of stewardship, environmental ethics and sustainability.
  • appreciate how much there is left to discover about forest ecosystems.
  • demonstrate sufficient knowledge of forest ecology to be able to embark on a life-long journey to understand, manage and conserve the forests of your neighborhood and the world.

Course Overview

This course is comprised of 7 modules:

Module 1: Respect for Nature
Module 2: Ecosystem – The Central Concept in Forest Ecology
Module 3: Describing Spatial Diversity
Module 4: Understanding Ecosystems and How They Change
Module 5: Describing Temporal Diversity
Module 6: Issues in Forestry
Module 7: Getting It Right: How to Judge Good Stewardship

Your journey through the course starts in Module 1 with a slide show that addresses the need to respect forests as they are and not as we might wish them to be. This respect must become the foundation for the new relationship between humans and forests that will be essential if we wish to pass on our forest inheritance to future generations in as good or better condition than we received it.

You will then explore in Module 2 the single most important concept in ecology: the ecosystem concept. You will discover the absolute necessity to consider forests as complex, integrated, dynamic and functional ecological systems. This introduction to ecosystems will introduce you to the key attributes of these biological systems and lead to the issues of sustainability in the face of the temporal diversity that is a consequence of the inevitable change that occurs in forests. How does “sustainability” work in ecosystems that are continually changing in ways that vary greatly from place to place?

Module 3 provides a change of pace. Leaving the philosophical, conceptual and theoretical framework of Modules 1 and 2, this Module takes you back to the reality of real forest ecosystems. It deals with ecological diversity – how ecosystems vary along local gradients of soil moisture and nutrients produced by local topography. This leads to a brief introduction to the ecological diversity produced by climatic diversity, exemplified by the biogeoclimatic ecosystem classification of British Columbia. The Module 3 presents video clips and pano movies of a tour along a topographically induced moisture gradient in Pacific Spirit Park near the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC. It then presents the field skills needed to describe ecosystems in the field using the Braun-Blanquet rélévé method as used by the BC Ministry of Forests. You will be asked to review BCMOF resources on biogeoclimatic classification that are available on the Internet.

Having examined and described ecosystems in the field as the foundation for identifying ecological and spatial diversity, the course switches gear again. Module 4, which presents the basics of forest ecology, constitutes the majority of the technical knowledge you need to learn and understand in the course. Proceeding from ecosystem function (production ecology and nutrient cycling) to the physical components of the ecosystem, this module then presents, through assigned readings, the biotic aspects of ecosystems: population and community ecology. The module concludes by synthesizing this fundamental understanding of the structure and functioning of forest ecosystems into an analysis of ecosystem change and response to disturbance.

Equipped with a basic understanding of the processes and structures of forest ecosystems, Module 5 returns from the virtual classroom to the virtual forest. Pano movies of Pacific Spirit Park enable you to apply the information gained in Module 4 in an analysis of ecosystem response to disturbances of various types and severities.

Modules 1 to 5 constitute the basic material in the course. The first stage of your life journey through the
wonderful world of forest ecology concludes with an examination in Module 6 of some of the issues that beset forestry today: e.g. sustainability, clearcutting, old growth the biodiversity. These complex issues, which are generally oversimplified in the public debate, require a careful ecological as well as sociological analysis if we are to be successful in resolving them.

The course concludes as it started: with an annotated slide show that examines the relationship between aesthetic and ecologic

Course Requirements and Assignments

  • Assignment 1: an essay assignment that tests your comprehension of the ecosystem concept and its role as a foundation for forestry.
  • Assignment 2: a field project report that will be started after you have completed Assignment 3 but will not be handed in until the end of the course. It will be a report that describes and contrasts the vegetation, soil and site characteristics of ecosystems at the dry, middle and moist/wet ends of a local topographically-induced soil moisture and productivity gradient. The report will speculate about the response of these ecosystems to disturbance and the possible future stand development.
  • Assignment 3: an essay assignment that evaluates your understanding of the ecology of production in ecosystems.
  • Assignment 4: an essay assignment that explores your grasp of the physical components of the “ecological stage” – the site.
  • Assignment 5: your final essay assignment that assesses the depth of your appreciation of the role of biological processes in ecosystem change.
  • Assignment 6: this assignment will test your ability to apply your knowledge and experience of forest ecology to an analysis of issues in forestry. It will be a group activity in the form of a debate about stewardship, sustainability and other issues from an ecological perspective. Each group will tackle a different question. The questions, instructions, and the makeup of each Study Group will be posted in the Assignments section of the course. At the completion of this assignment, each debate group will post its results to the Assignment 6 Ecological Issues Debate discussion forum for feedback comment from the other groups.

You will also be asked to write a final comprehensive examination. This will include questions on technical definitions (the “language” of forest ecology), questions that test your grasp of the complexity of individual topics; and a final comprehensive essay question that will require you to integrate material from many parts of the course.

Some of the work in this course will be done in small groups of two to four students, and will involve chat-room and discussion forum exchanges on the assignment topics. Depending on the enrollment, the makeup of these Study Groups will be changed at the end of each assignment so that you will get a chance to work in different groups. This process is intended to give experience in working in a team and both giving and receiving peer reviews. This group process will take the form of debates about the ecological underpinnings of topical issues in forestry. Assigned groups will be asked to conduct a web-based debate, founded in the ecology you are learning for and against a series of propositions that reflect the current environmental debate in forestry. A summary of each debate will be handed in for grading and will be shared with the other groups.

Grading Assessment

The final grade you obtain in the course will be comprised of marks based on your participation, the essays you submit, the group activities and the final examination; the specific distribution of marks is:

Assignment 1 5%
Assignment 2 25%
Assignment 3 5%
Assignment 4 5%
Assignment 5 5%
Assignment 6 10%
Final examination 40%
Course participation 5%

Course Materials


Kimmins, J.P. 2004. Forest Ecology: A foundation for sustainable management. 3rd Edition.
Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, NJ. 720 pp.

Kimmins, H. 1997. Balancing Act: Environmental Issues in forestry. UBC Press, Vancouver, BC. 305 pp.

FRST202 Textbook Order Form

Custom Course Package:

There will also be other assigned readings. For Module 3 you will need to access material from the B.C Ministry of Forests web page on biogeoclimatic classification, where you will find information about this system and manuals for describing ecosystems – vegetation, soils and site – in the field. These, and the necessary field data collection forms can be obtained by purchasing the Custom Course Package from the UBC Bookstore or downloaded in PDF format from the Ministry of Forests at:

Field Manual for Describing Terrestrial Ecosystems:

General information in the biogeoclimatic classification – BEC web page:

Note: For the assignment in Module 3, you will also need access to a local plant identification book or manual if you are not already familiar with the plant species in your area. These are available at local libraries or bookstores, or, for B.C., could be accessed through the UBC Bookstore.

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