Plants and the fate of terrestrial life: why do we study forests? Part1

Humankind have asked questions since the civilization of the our known world. The more self-aware we become, the more questions we ask. While some questions never get answered, others open doors to opportunities and discoveries we never imagined. In the light of scientific advancement, remarkable progress have been made in understanding yet, a very small piece of the complexity of life on earth. Amid the centre of this complexity, is the cradle of life; autotrophs.


What are autotrophs? Autotrophs simply means, self-dependent living organisms such as higher plants, cyanobacteria (blue-green algae). Higher plants, whether forest trees, grasslands or field crops have served many several organism since the beginning of their time and they still continues. They are the primary source of energy on earth and thus, the most important components of all terrestrial living component on earth. So, higher plants converts carbon dioxide and water into different forms of sugar mostly during the day when there’s enough sunlight. This process is called photosynthesis (‘foto’- ‘sin’-thesis ). The sugar is stored in different ways depending on the plant and prevailing conditions. The sweet berries, grapes and the cocoa bean used for making chocolates all exist as different forms of stored sugars. Besides the food we benefit from photosynthesis, the air we breathe is freshen with oxygen. Oxygen is a by product of photosynthesis. As you may already know, too much carbon causes global warming which is not good for our health (I’ll talk about global warming later).

In effect, plants, as simple and common as they seem can be seen as a treasure of life. Just like the air we breathe, it is unlimited in nature to ensure our survival; yet it’s abundance can deceive us to place little value on it. We like to spend our fortunes to acquire expensive jewels made of diamonds and all we do is to adore and guard them in a safely. We later die and leave it behind to who knows. Meanwhile, the poor little plants serve as our entire life as wood for our shelter, coffee and tea to for work, wine and food to quench our thirst and hunger, and roses to express ourselves to loved ones. May be from now on, you may think differently about plants and perhaps support plant research.

                                   ..the simple benefits of plants..

So, there is no question that our fate depends on the fate of plants. Scientist, upon realizing the importance of plants in reducing the potential impact of climate change, are making efforts to understand and predict the future of plants. One of the key questions of interest to Scientists is how present and past human activities influences vegetation changes in time. Of course, several unfavorable natural events known as “natural disturbances” can significantly change vegetation. For instance, we know very well how the effect of natural disturbances such as flood, drought, pests, ice storms and lightning-induced forest fires has greatly altered vegetation cover. Although they can also have positive impacts on plants, unfortunately, we have little control of over them especially when they’re harmful compared to human activities. By understanding how our way of life affect vegetation, we can easily change our ways to positively impact plants.

In addition to human studies, Scientist are also curious about how changes in say, the amount heat and moisture in air (temperature and humidity) affect changes in vegetation. Data from all of these studies allow scientist to develop mathematical models that enables them to predict how future vegetation would be like.

               – imagine you decided to walk half a mile for an interview

                 or a date in your  fancy cloth. You forgot to look up the

                 weather  forecast, and it began to rain. Unprepared,  

                  the  rains ruins your nice cloth 😦  I guess this doesn’t

                  sound like fun. Knowledge of an event ahead of time can

                   help avoid  unintended negative consequences – 

To avoid such surprises, scientists try to predict scenarios of future events based on past and present experiences. This guides policy makers in decision making and also to prepare for future uncertain events.

The ecological benefits we obtain from forests such habitat for countless species, carbon sequestration and cooling makes it a key fundamental unit of investigation.

..plants hold the key to life..

Plants continuously holds the key to uncovering, predicting and maintaining terrestrial life. While scarcity and complexity intuitively draws most attention, abundance and simplicity in the case holds the key to our feeble life. In the past three decades, advances in ecology, biogeochemistry, ecophysiology and other related disciplines have changed how we look at our environment. Since plants cannot fly or run, the adjust to suit the prevailing conditions survive and record all events that occur in their surrounding. This way of life also provides a great opportunity for us to learn about the past. Trees can provide vivid knowledge of our changing world through their complex adaptive response strategies. So, if future our future lives depends on previous experiences, then trees are our answers. might event They now holds key to understanding the future ahead.

“…necessity is the mother of invention.”

A great opportunity have now been bestowed humankind. We now appreciate plants more than our predecessors. The intricate wonder of plants perhaps may never have been realized if modern environmental concerns had not come to our attention. Now, we know that our precious lives are in vain unless take care of plants. As the saying goes, “necessity is the mother of invention”. Our quest to secure our future due to uncertainties of climate change impact have to the rediscovery of plants. The goal of current research is to take advantage of this new learning to in the hope to rewrite the wrongs of the past.

Now that you know the importance of plants, please be kind to water a wilting plant when you find one. As the old saying goes;

                               –the last man die when the last tree dies-

-Acheampong Atta-Boateng

Published by Ache

Education: KNUST, Yale, Oxford Research: Physiological ecology, biophysics, eco-engineering

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