Module 2b - Understanding Iowa's Ecosystems: Forests

fall forest

The second module -- Iowa's Ecosystems -- offers a crash course in each of the three major ecosystems found in Iowa: prairies, forests, and aquatic ecosystems. The goal for each submodule is to introduce the history of the ecosystem, describe the current status and function of the ecosystem, and discuss the challenges facing the ecosystem in Iowa. In future modules and during the in-person sessions, we'll discuss approaches to address those challenges and how conservationists are using these natural ecosystems to address other challenges in Iowa like water quality and wildlife habitat.

At the end of this session on Iowa's Forests, participants should:

  1. Understand the historical and current distribution and composition of Iowa’s forest ecosystems.
  2. Know key terms like even/uneven aged management, forest succession, disturbance, and regeneration and understand how management strategies in forests apply these concepts.
  3. Be familiar with the challenges facing Iowa’s forests, including exotic forest pests and plants, limited application of sound forest stewardship practices, and succession toward shade-tolerant plant communities.

Before coming to the in-person session, complete the following elements.

  1. Watch the recorded lecture (42 minutes; download PDF of slides here) by Dr. Miranda Curzon to learn about the history of Iowa's forests, challenges facing those forests, and management strategies that can be used to effectively manage forests for sustainable timber production, wildlife habitat, and many other valuable functions.
  2. Read the article on Forests (pdf) from Iowa's Nature for a written general overview of forest ecosystems found in Iowa.
  3. Read this short article from the Iowa DNR about emerging threats facing Iowa's forests and watch this episode of Iowa Outdoors about Forest Invasive Species.

Supplemental resources

References supporting materials covered in this module. Explore as you have time and interest!

Episodes of Iowa Land and Sky program
The Iowa Land and Sky program from Iowa Public Broadcasting has a wonderful library of short, educational videos about Iowa's landscapes and ecology. Here's a list of episodes that add to the focus of this module.

Resources from Iowa State University Extension and Outreach

Resources from the Iowa DNR

Groups for landowners to learn more and get involved in forest management in Iowa

Field guides

Effective tree identification is critical to effective forest management and conservation. There are many books available, but this list includes the best resources we've found after trying out a number. A quick online search or trip to the local bookstore may reveal a format or style you prefer. 

Scroll through the online Story Map from the Natural Resources Conservation Service about forest management on private lands. This short tutorial is a good overview of the principles discussed in the lecture and is also an interesting approach to communicating conservation through online story maps.


Do you have ideas for how we can improve this online module? Did we miss a resource that you think should be included? Were elements too long or too short? Too technical or not technical enough? Please help us improve the Master Conservationist Program by providing feedback on this short online form?