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Assessment of Environmental State of the Forest Based on Leaves’ Asymmetry

© Alexsander S. Bogolyubov, Russia, 2002

© Michael J. Brody, USA, 2003

Assessment of environmental state of the forest based on leaves’ asymmetryThis manual contains procedure for assessment of environmental state of the area, in particular, forests, based on integral characteristics of asymmetry of tree leaves. The procedure is based on the theory that difference between the left and the right halves of a leaf correlates with the degree of total environmental disturbance.

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.


The procedure used in the course of present research is based on the theory of “development stability” (“morphogenetic homeostasis”), elaborated by Russian scientists A.V. Yablokov, V.M. Zakharov and others in the course of studies of nuclear pollution effects after the Chernobyl disaster. Those scientists proved that stress-impact of different types caused changes in development homeostasis (stability) of living organisms and those changes could be evaluated on the basis of disturbance of morphogenetic processes.

Main indicators of changes in homeostasis of morphogenetic processes are indicators of fluctuating asymmetry – undirected differences between the left and right sides of different morphological structures, which were normally bilaterally symmetrical. Such differences are usually caused by errors in the course of organism development. Under normal conditions, their level is minimal, but it increases at any stressing impact, which results in increase of asymmetry.

Peculiarity of development stability is that it greatly depends on general genetic changes in the organism and that is especially important when evaluating effects of radiation impact.

Assessment of fluctuating asymmetry of bilateral organisms made a good showing in determination of the total load of anthropogenic impact. Traditional methods evaluating chemical and physical parameters do not provide integrated idea of impact upon a biological system, whereas bioindication indexes reflect organism’s response to the whole diversity of impact factors and they have biological meaning at the same time.

Optimal objects for bioindication of anthropogenic impact according to the mentioned procedure are plants. Animals, especially higher ones, are not right for such bioindication. First of all, they are more complicatedly organized and their development stability depends on more factors. Secondly, they are found at higher levels of pyramid of numbers and they are less exposed to pollution of soils and air environment. Finally, animals can move and they are less attached to a certain site.

Plants as producers in the ecosystem are attached to a local area all their life and are exposed to influence of soil and air environments, which reflect the whole complex of stressing impact upon the ecosystem better.

Within the framework of the given lesson, students are proposed to assess development stability (degree of fluctuating asymmetry) on the example of leaves taken from one of deciduous tree species found in their area. This work is not difficult in terms of techniques and required knowledge, but it is very scrupulous. Minimum of equipment is required for the fulfillment of the work: dividers, a ruler, protractor, forms for measurement data recording and counting equipment ( a calculator or a computer).

General information on organization of studies

When planning the work it is necessary to bear in mind that its field part (collection of field material) takes insignificant share of total time required for conduction of the study. Most part of the time will be spent in the laboratory as students will take measurements and conduct estimations. Hence, it is necessary to take it into account while planning the total time of studies.

The matter is that any bioindication study is of scientific significance only in case if it is carried out not in one point and at single moment of time, but it covers several geographical points or is extended along several time periods. In other words, data of ...


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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