Peter Smallidge, director of Arnot Teaching and Research Forest, held a session about the basics of forest ecology at the New York Farm Show in Syracuse last week. It was a part of show’s daily workshops that were sponsored by the New York Forest Owners Association with the help of the Department of Environmental Conservation, Cornell Cooperative Extension and SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry.

Smallidge, who is also a senior extension associate at Cornell University, was featured in the March issue of Farming (“Developing Woodlot Stewardship Management Plan”) and is featured in the upcoming issue “Thinning to Achieve Landowner’s Goals.”

Smallidge started off describing the concept of ecology, the study of interaction of organisms in their environment with landscape history, human activity, natural processes, organism behavior, and environmental conditions. He broke down the subject in five categories and explained how they affect the forests.

Life History Attributes

Smallidge explained that shade tolerance includes species and their response to shade. The important factors are age of first seed production, soil mineral and pH sensitivity, soil moisture tolerance, and how young a tree species can reproduce. When a tree is tolerant of shade, he said, they tend to have more seeds and reproduce under self. When a tree is intolerant to shade, it tends to have lightly seeded and not reproduce under self, he noted.


The intensity of sunlight is one of the most important factors in forest ecology, Smallidge noted. Some important things to think about are quantity and quality. Quantity is the intensity of the sun as well as the most important variable in nature. It is also the major determinant of growth and yield. “Quantity is one of the major factors in determining photosynthesis (PHS),” he said.

Soil and Site

Smallidge explained that soil and site are an essential part in how forests grow. By definition, soil is the accumulation and interaction of climate. With that, trees can survive on a range of soil and site conditions and they can thrive on a narrower range of soil and site conditions. Soil is the parent material where it’s active in the climate and organisms. It is also modified by topography and changes through time.


Wildlife is dependent on the food that forests provide, so if the food is low, wildlife suffers and can change the wildlife populations, Smallidge said. Deer are the prominent threat to New York state forestry and have a big impact on forests in general. They eat 6-8 pounds of fresh weight per day and in one day, deer will impact 4000 seeds. “They like some species more than others,” She noted.

Pests and Pathogens

Pests and pathogens create stress, Smallidge stated. Examples of stress: ice storms break branches. Stress is the condition or agent that impairs normal functioning ability of a tree and may shorten the life span of a tree.

Other speakers during the show included: Kristi Sullivan, Cornell University, Department of Natural Resources; Michael Fournier, USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service; Stephen Childs, Cornell Maple Program; Brett Chedzoy, Cornell Cooperative Extension; Tom Gerow, Wagner Lumber Company; David Preznya, Baillie Lumber Company; Andrew Metz, consulting forester, Tully N.Y.; Arthur Brooks, consulting forester, Central Square, N.Y.; David Gaskell and Ronald Pedersen, forest landowners; and John Rybinski, Central N.Y. Quality Deer Management Association president.