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Assessment of the Vital State of a Forest Based on Pine-tree Analysis

© Alexsander S. Bogolyubov, Yuri A. Buyivolov, Michael V. Kravchenko, Russia, 1999

© Michael J. Brody, 2003

Assessment of the vital state of a forest based on pine-tree analysisThis manual contains a procedure for environmental assessment of forests based on the analysis of the morphological state of Scotch pine trees (Pinus sylvestris L). Key characteristics chosen as the main integral criteria are: the degree of crown defoliation, needle discoloration, number of cones and growth of end shoots.

This field study has instructional video featuring real students conducting the ecological field techniques in nature. Each video illustrates the primary instructional outcomes and the major steps in accomplishing the task including reporting the results.


In the last two decades, mass damage and degradation of forests has been recorded in many European countries. Forest degradation is mainly caused by atmospheric pollution. Acid rains, high concentrations of sulphur oxides and nitrogen oxides as well as ozone in the air cause direct damage to plants; they lead to the worsening of state of forests.

The third session of the Executive Committee of the Convention on distant transboundary transfer of air pollutants under the aegis of UNEP (1985) approved and launched the Programme of International Cooperation on research and monitoring of air pollutant impact on forests. The Programme is part of the Global System of Environmental Monitoring. The program is based on the collection of comparable data about the state of forests at a national level and the subsequent exchange of this data, aimed at a better understanding of the problem.

The given procedure is relatively simple and reliable to use so it can be successfully applied in the practical environmental education of students. It is based on studies conducted on constant sites and can be used for both long-term monitoring and individual research.

The present procedure of study, monitoring and assessment of the vital state of forests is based on the bioindication method. The method consists of an assessment of the environmental status (general vital state of the forest) according to different characteristics of the studied living organism (in our case, pine). In other words, the indicator-species informs us about unfavourable environmental conditions by its appearance: its vital state. What environmental factors cause a certain response of the tree to unfavourable conditions is a separate, rather difficult question, which is not touched upon when the given lesson is performed.

It is recommended to use Scotch pine (Pinus sylvestris L.) as a main bioindicating species in the course of this research. If this species is not found in your area, you can substitute another species of pine.

Pine trees are one of the best model species to serve as bioindicators. First of all, the pine is very sensitive to even slight changes of environmental conditions, including environmental pollution. Second, pine is widespread in many forested areas of Europe, Asia, and North America; thus it is easy to find suitable study sites. It also simplifies the problem of comparability of data collected in different regions. Pine is also a convenient object for study by students due to the fact that pine is an evergreen tree and produces only one shoot a year, which makes observations much easier. From a methodical point of view, pine is a well-studied tree species.

The given task is divided into three stages:

Choice of sites and selection of trees for study.

Description of the general vital state (GVS) of trees.

Evaluation and interpretation of collected data, presentation of the study results.

The following items are required for the research: a compass, a measuring tape (one for each team of students), field glasses and description forms (one per group of 2-3 students).

Choice of a site and selection of trees for conducting measurements

As a rule, all long-term studies, especially monitoring studies, are carried out at constant sites. However, if a study takes place only once, it should be conducted at specific fixed natural objects; their choice should be as random as possible. Thus, we reduce the factor of a researcher’s arbitrariness and create the conditions for external control and assessment for accuracy and reliability of collected data.

Choice of site location

A site for study of the vital state of trees should be situated in a relatively large forest massif; its total area should be not less than 1 hectare (100m x 100m). The site should be located in the heart of the forest and should not border the edges of the forest, forest roads or paths. It is recommended that a site is located at a distance not less than 25 meters away from the forest edges, roads or paths.

Selection of trees

It is necessary to make provisions for a random sample of trees, independent from the researcher, while selecting trees for study. A system of random samples in scientific research, when chosen subjects (in our case, trees) represent the general state of the whole studied object (in our case, a forest), is called choosing a representative sample. The following system of tree selection is...


This was only the first page from the manual and its full version you can see in the

Ecological Field Studies 4CD Set:

It is possible to purchase the complete set of 40 seasonal Ecological Field Study Materials (video in mpg + manuals in pdf formats) in an attractive 4 compact disk set. These compact disks are compatible with Mac and PC computers. The teacher background information and manuals can be printed out for easy reference. The videos are suitable for individual student or whole class instruction. To purchase the complete 4CD set write a request to the authors (in a free form).

Ecological Field Studies 4CD Set

Some of these manuals you can also purchase in the form of applications for Android devices on Google Play.

Ecological Field Studies Demo Disk:

We also have a free and interesting demonstration disk that explains our ecological field studies approach. The demo disk has short excerpts from all the seasonal field study videos as well as sample text from all the teacher manuals. The disk has an entertaining automatic walk through which describes the field study approach and explains how field studies meet education standards.

You can also download the Demo Disc from This is a virtual hybrid (for PC and Mac computers) CD-ROM image (one 563 Mb file "CD_Demo.iso"). You can write this image to the CD and use it in your computer in ordinary way. You also can use emulator software of virtual CD-ROM drive to play the disk directly from your hard disk.

Ecological Field Studies Demo Disk


Other Ecological Field Studies Instructive Manuals:

Autumn Season

  1. Orienteering in the Forest
  2. Procedure of the Geological Exposure Description
  3. Plotting a Profile of a River Valley Slope
  4. Simple Procedure of Soil Description
  5. Assessment of the Vital State of a Forest Based on Pine-tree Analysis
  6. Study of Species Composition and Number of Fungi
  7. Study of Species Composition and Census of Birds Using the Line Transect-counting Method
  8. Integrated Study Based on Landscape Profile
  9. Complex Environmental Assessment of Human Impact on an Area
  10. Assessment of Air Pollution by Lichen Indication Method

Winter Season

  1. Making a Campfire
  2. Simple “Eye” Survey of the Field Study Site
  3. Study of Growth Dynamics of Trees Based on Annual Rings
  4. Mapping Forest Vegetation
  5. Green Plants Under Snow
  6. Methods of Observation of a Chickadee Flock's Territorial Behavior
  7. Procedure of Winter Mammals Route Census by Footprints
  8. Study of Mammal Ecology According to Their Tracks
  9. Physical and Chemical Properties of Natural Waters
  10. Study of Snow Cover Profile

Spring Season

  1. Let's Help Birds!
  2. Study of the Ecology of Early Flowering Plants
  3. Phenology of Plant Florescence
  4. Assessment of the Vital State of Coniferous Underbrush
  5. Study of Forest Invertebrates (Part I: Forest Litter, Wood)
  6. Studies of Species Composition and Abundance of Amphibians
  7. Studying Minerals and Rocks in Your Area
  8. Studies of the Day Activity of Singing Birds
  9. Studies of Bird Populations Size by Different Methods
  10. Study of Fauna of Spring Temporary Water Bodies

Summer Season

  1. Making a Herbarium
  2. The Study of Plants in Your Local Environment
  3. Study of the Vertical Structure of a Forest
  4. Study of Forest Invertebrates (Part 2: Grass Layer, Tree Crowns and Air)
  5. Study of Birds’ Nesting Life
  6. Complex Comparative Description of Small Rivers and Streams
  7. The Study of Water Invertebrates in a Local River and Assessment of Its Environmental State
  8. Study of Plankton
  9. Assessment of Ecological Features of Meadows on the Base of Vegetation Cover
  10. Assessment of Environmental State of the Forest Based on Leaves’ Asymmetry

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