Edges related to forest ecology are the areas where two or more different ecological features come together, often associated with variations in the convergence of plant species. Some examples of edges include a path through the woods, croplands meeting woodlands, and stream banks. Edges are important to wildlife and offer a mix of native plants that are oftentimes found nowhere else throughout the ecosystem. Certain wildlife including deer, grouse, and fox thrive and depend on edges for mating rituals, feeding, and habitat cover.
Habitat edges are defined in two different forms, hard and soft. Both types of edges can be created through human intervention or natural disturbances. Hard edges are those associated with abrupt changes in features and are often quite noticeable. Many human induced edges including field edges, trails, and roads are hard edges. Hard edges are more easily detected and can often be seen from a distance. Timber harvest through strategic forest management can create both hard and soft edges. Soft edges are those which are less noticeable to the naked eye such as a gradual transition in tree cover types or slight variations in elevation. A slight change in elevation can allow for different soil types, leading to different vegetation, and ultimately producing different plant communities. Another common feature allowing for a soft edge would be how far along the forest is in its succession process. This succession timeline could allow for differences in species, age, size and many other features of the plants. Both forms of edges are valuable to wildlife as the habitats they provide favor certain species.
Hard edges can turn into soft edges either by natural occurrences or via the help of human induced changes. Hard edges that have slight variations can be more useful to wildlife than an extremely hard edge. Instead of a straight edge where a cornfield meets a woods, a few trees fell in the direction of the field will allow for safe passage ways and browse locations for wildlife. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources recommends a gradual transition between forest and field consisting of native small trees and shrubs. Feathering the edge allows for more security and a wider edge filled with more diverse plants. Since edges are always in transition, this contributes to the dynamic forest.
It is important to note that not all animals benefit from edges. While most do, some animals prefer the solitude of a large forest, and others the openness of a savannah. A continuous forest will house animals such as warblers while a younger forest comprised of Aspen and other pioneer species will favor grouse, deer, and turkeys. Temperature, humidity, carbon dioxide levels, and wind differences can be influenced by edges, allowing for different microclimates. Edges also have the ability to reveal past events that may have occurred in that landscape. They hold information and with a small amount of educated guessing and reason, this information can be extracted. Examples of this could be determining when the area was last logged, farmed, or if it has not experienced a significant disturbance for an extended period of time.