11 Functions of Forest Ecosystem Explained

Functions of forest ecosystem are; energy and fuel supply, air quality preservation, soil conservation, biodiversity conservation, tourism, recreation, food supply, knowledge advancement, raw material supply, water conservation, cultural symbolism, and climate change mitigation.


This article discusses the functions of forest ecosystem as follows;





1). Energy and Fuel Supply (as Functions of Forest Ecosystem)

One of the most prominent functions of forest ecosystem is its ability to serve as a source of biomass, biofuel and bioenergy.  

The energy pyramid describes how bioenergy is cycled and transferred across the various trophic levels of forests [7].

Some process that are actively involved in this transfer of energy are biodegradation, feeding, photosynthesis and respiration. The energy itself is stored in biomass, which may be plant or animal organic matter.

Since bioenergy is a type of renewable energy, harnessing and using it is a good measure, and a step toward sustainability. The relevance of bioenergy can be compared to that of solar energy, wind energy, geothermal energy, and wave power.

Bioenergy can be extracted from timber or firewood through combustion, or it can be derived from biofuel [5]. Biofuel itself is produced by the use of any of various methods of biomass conversion like fermentation, pyrolysis, and anaerobic digestion, to alter the characteristics of biomass. This is often done in a biorefinery, or a waste-to-energy facility.

Bioenergy from the forest ecosystem can be used for any of various purposes, such as domestic heating, electricity generation, and cogeneration [10].

Lastly, bioenergy represents the prospect of energy sustainability, energy efficiency and energy conservation in the future. Provided technological advancement occurs at a rapid rate, bioenergy can replace fossil fuels for various purposes.

This development will be good for the environment and economy, because biomass is relatively cheap, and produces less greenhouse emissions than fossil fuels [9]. Biofuels are said to be carbon-neutral, and can save cost on environmental remediation and carbon tax payments.


2). Air Quality Preservation

There are various ways in which the forest ecosystem improves and preserves air quality.

Forest vegetation can intercept particulate matter in air, thereby removing such pollutants from the atmosphere. Some studies suggest that at least 7% of air pollutants can be physically removed by trees through interception [12].

Gaseous toxins and pollutants can also be absorbed by forest vegetation through the stomata of leaves. This usually occurs as part of the natural metabolism of plants.

Environmental degradation by air pollution, is less-prominent in areas occupied by forests. The two main mechanisms by which forest ecosystems preserve and improve air quality are filtering and absorption.

Forests also participate in the formation of clouds and precipitation [14]. This is because when air currents flow through forest ecosystems, they transport water vapor which is carried higher into the atmosphere through convective mechanisms, where it forms clouds.

The role of forests in cloud formation and air current dynamics is part of the hydrological cycle, and helps to regulate the composition of the atmosphere.

Because of the function of forests in preserving and improving air quality, afforestation is one of the recommended measured for controlling air pollution [2]. For the same reason, deforestation can be linked to air degradation in many parts of the world.


3). Soil Conservation (as one of the Functions of Forest Ecosystem)

In sustainable farming, industry, food production, human settlement, and ecological stability, land is a very important resource.

Land and soil conservation is one of the functions of forest ecosystem. In areas inhabited by forests, landforms and soil resources are less-exposed to loss and degradation.

A common way in which forests conserve soil is through the prevention or mitigation of erosion [16].

Due to the presence of vegetation cover, wind and precipitation are prevented from reaching the forest soil with high intensity or force. Rather, they are intercepted by the forest vegetation, and allowed to reach the ground with less pressure. In the case of rainfall, part of the precipitation is retained and absorbed by leaves.

On reaching the ground, forests also mitigate flooding and other water-induced natural hazards. Roots of vegetation and organic activity in forest soils increase porosity and permeability, and allow more water to be absorbed after precipitation.

A higher moisture content of soil usually leads to high fertility [4]. Forest soils also contain high concentration of nutrients that have been produced during the decomposition of organic matter. Nitrogen fixation and carbon storage are other processes by which forests conserve the soil [13].

Unfavorable conditions and events like soil pollution, low fertility, erosion and landslides are not dominant in or around forest ecosystems. The high rate of organic activity provides a form of natural bioremediation that prevents pollutants from accumulating in soil.

Functions of Forest Ecosystem: Soil Conservation (Credit: U.S. Department of Agriculture 2006)
Functions of Forest Ecosystem: Soil Conservation (Credit: U.S. Department of Agriculture 2006)


4). Biodiversity Conservation

The forest ecosystem is a natural habitat for various species of plants, animals and microorganisms. Some of these species are endangered, and many are unable to survive or thrive in other ecosystems.

What this means is that by preserving forests, we preserve biodiversity in terms of the numerous organisms that depend on the forest as their habitat and source of food.

Forests also conserve biodiversity by playing a key role in the natural cycles and processes that organisms need to survive. These include photosynthesis, biomass production, carbon cycle and hydrological cycle.

Efforts to conserve biodiversity through the preservation of natural forests has led to the establishment of natural reserves in various parts of the world.


5). Tourism and Recreation (as Functions of Forest Ecosystem)

The unpolluted environment and distinctive features of forests make them suitable locations for recreational activities, and attractions for tourists.

Camping, hiking and observation are activities that make the forest ecosystem attractive. As a result, forests can function as a tool for regional development through tourism and recreation; as well as a source of revenue.

The effective use of forests for recreational purposes requires strategic planning to ensure that the safety of both tourists and the ecosystem id not compromised [15].

Functions of Forest Ecosystem: Tourism and Recreation (Credit: South African Tourism 2008 .CC BY 2.0.)
Functions of Forest Ecosystem: Tourism and Recreation (Credit: South African Tourism 2008 .CC BY 2.0.)


6). Food Supply

There are various ways in which forests help in the fight against world hunger and food insecurity.

By mitigating climate change, air pollution, erosion and soil degradation, forests improve the agricultural productivity of their surroundings. This enables crop and livestock farming to have high yields in regions where forests occur.

Forests themselves provide food in the form of game, edible vegetables and fruits. There are large populations around the world that depend on forests for food [6].

Lastly, forests provide useful information that is used to develop various practices of sustainable agriculture like no-till farming, cover cropping, organic farming and agroforestry. When they are implemented, these practices usually lead to improved food production.


7). Knowledge Advancement (as one of the Functions of Forest Ecosystem)

Various fields of study depend on forests to increase the available scientific knowledge. Some of these fields are; crop and soil science, forestry, and ecology.

Because they are natural systems without much human interruption, forests are one of the few sources of reliable information on the nature of biological and geochemical processes.

Forests also illustrate the interaction between abiotic and biotic components of an ecosystem, such as soil, rocks, climate, and biodiversity. Studying and monitoring patterns of growth, resource conservation and recycling, can provide evidence of how these processes are affected by human activity.

Lastly, the study of forest ecosystems, adds to available knowledge that can help in achieving sustainable development.

Knowledge Advancement (Credit: Shenandoah National Park 2017)
Functions of Forest Ecosystem: Knowledge Advancement (Credit: Shenandoah National Park 2017)


8). Raw Material Supply

The forest ecosystem functions as a source of raw materials for various industries.

These include energy, food production, paper, biodegradable plastic, and resin-processing industries.

Raw materials produced by forests can be broadly classified into timber and non-timber materials. Timber is used as fuel for energy production, as well as for the production of paper and plywood, among others.

Non-timber materials from forests include vegetables, resins, and bark. These are used in food, cosmetic, and pharmaceutical industries, among others.

Lastly, some forests contain mineral reserves [8], which are extracted through mining, processed, and used in various industries.


9). Water Conservation (as one of the Functions of Forest Ecosystems)

Forests carry out water conservation in various ways.

Vegetation in forests use large amounts of water for their growth. In turn, these plants produce food and bioenergy that are needed for the survival of all other life forms.

Forest soils are relatively permeable and porous, and help store water which is either reserved in aquifers or held in pore spaces for plant use.

Because of the sustainable nature of forest environments, catchments in such areas usually contain water of good quality [3].

Lastly, forests play a similar role to water dams and other manmade water-conservation infrastructure, by reducing the pollution and loss of water resources through flooding.


10). Cultural Role

The history and origin of many ethnic groups and cultures, have links to forest ecosystems.

For such communities, the forest is symbolic of their history, culture and beliefs [11].

The aesthetic features of forests are of religious significance in some regions. Forests are used in various festivals, and as a source of cultural relics, medicinal herbs and barks.


11). Climate Change Mitigation

Climate change mitigation is one of the main functions of forest ecosystem.

The ways in which forests mitigate climate change include; carbon capture and sequestration, oxygen production, and cloud formation.

In carbon sequestration, forests reduce the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere by storing carbon in soil and biomass [1].

Forests also mitigate climate change by intercepting aerosols in the atmosphere, producing oxygen and optimizing the hydrological cycle.

On the other hand, a loss of forests due to deforestation and other human activities, may have various environmental consequences like climate change, global warming, heat waves, and desertification.



Functions of forest ecosystem are;

  1. Energy and Fuel Supply
  2. Air Quality Preservation
  3. Soil Conservation
  4. Biodiversity Conservation
  5. Tourism and Recreation
  6. Food Supply
  7. Knowledge Advancement
  8. Raw Material Supply
  9. Water Conservation
  10. Cultural Role
  11. Climate Change Mitigation



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6). Gitz, V.; Pingault, N.; Meybeck, A.; Ickowitz, A.; McMullin, S.; Sunderland, T. C. H.; Barbara, V.; Powell, B.; Termote, C.; Jamnadass, R.; Dawson, I.; Stadimayr, B. (2021). “Contribution of forests and trees to food security and nutrition. Available at: https://doi.org/10.17528/cifor/008006. (Accessed 7 August 2022).

7). Hall, C. A. (2014). “Ecosystems and Energy: History and Overview.” Reference Module in Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-409548-9.09058-8. (Accessed 7 August 2022).

8). Hirons, M. (2013). “Mining in Ghana’s forests: Cross-sectoral linkages and the prospects for REDD.” International Development Planning Review 35(3):283-302. Available at: https://doi.org/10.3828/idpr.2013.18. (Accessed 7 August 2022).

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