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Assessment of the Vital State of Coniferous Underbrush

© Alexsander S. Bogolyubov, Russia, 2001

© Michael J. Brody, USA, 2003

Assessment of the vital state of coniferous underbrushThis manual describes the study of the growth for coniferous tree underbrush in different types of forest plant associations. It explains the selection of biotopes for study, a procedure for measuring height and age of young trees, primary processing of measurement data and plotting graphs explaining growth success level and vital state of the underbrush.

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.


It is known that the rate of reforestation depends on a number of factors, first of all, on availability of seed and the physical properties of the environment.

Seeds of most coniferous tree species are disseminated by the wind. When seeds fall into forest litter (debris layer) under favorable conditions, they can germinate and sprout. If the specific tree species can later become the main forest layer, then such sprouts are called underbrush (or youth growth) from the moment of their appearance. It is widely accepted that young trees can be called underbrush until they reach 1/3 of the height of the main forest canopy.

Unlike the underbrush, trees and bushes that cannot become the main forest canopy later due to their biological features, i.e. to form a full-value forest stand are called underwood (understory).

A typical example of underbrush in a pine-spruce forest can be young spruces, pines and birches, whereas underwood is composed of willows, mountain ash, buckthorn, raspberry, etc.

The rate of underbrush growth depends on a number of factors, first of all, on the physical conditions of the habitat: moisture, temperature and light conditions, soil richness, diseases and insects/pests. It is practically impossible to take into account all of these factors. However, it is possible to measure the role of all the factors in the aggregate by assessing the success of growth or vital state of the underbrush under natural conditions.

This lesson is aimed at the assessment of the underbrush growth successfulness on the example of one of the most abundant coniferous tree species found in your area. Coniferous trees were chosen as objects for study as it is easy to determine the age of young trees of most coniferous species according to their appearance. It is almost impossible to conduct the same study based on deciduous trees or shrubs.

Students will need a minimum of equipment to complete the lesson: a two-meter measuring tape or a pole of 3-4 meters long, which is divided into decimeters, as well as a field diary to record the measurement data.

Selection of biotopes for study

Objectives of the study include taking measurements of the height and age of young coniferous trees under different growth conditions. Depending on the chosen tree species (let us remember that is should be an abundant species in your area), students perform an approximate assessment of its population size in different biotopes. In compliance with the standard rules for the present study (one or two days by a group of 10-11 students), it is recommended to choose 3-5 different biotopes where underbrush consisting of young trees of the chosen species is found.

Norway (common) spruce is the most widespread and suitable species for study in the conditions of the central part of Russia (in the vicinity of the field studies center “Ecosystem”). The biotopes where that species regenerates more or less successfully include a spruce forest; mixed coniferous and deciduous forest, pine forests and small-leafed forests (a birch forest and birch-pine forest). You can choose another model species in different biotopes in other areas.

Organization of fieldwork

Before the field part of the work, a group of students is divided into teams (working groups) according to the number of biotopes under study (in our case, into four ...


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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© Экологический центр "Экосистема"™, А.С. Боголюбов / © Field Ecology Center "Ecosystem"™, Alexander Bogolyubov, 2001-2016