May 21, 2020 4 min read

There are approximately 1.75 million species of organisms on this planet, but it’s no secret that trees are our favorite! 

So in honor of the International Day for Biological Diversity, we’re celebrating the important role they play in supporting wildlife and ecosystems. This year’s theme, “Our solutions are in nature,” is all about hope, solidarity, and the importance of working with nature's systems to restore harmony and create a healthier future.

Trees are the ultimate keystone species — many insects, fungi, and other wildlife, depend on specific types to survive — so when they disappear, entire ecosystems can become impoverished. Today, there are approximately 60,000 tree species on the planet, 10% of which are endangered. When it comes to providing biodiversity benefits, trees do all this and more:

  • Provide homes, playgrounds, and hiding spots from predators 
  • Provide not only food and water, but entire food chains
  • Create and hold soil together for a nutrient-rich forest floor
  • Grow plants that we humans use as life-saving medicine
  • Create oxygen and absorb pollution, keeping our air clean
  • Slow the flow of stormwater and contribute to global water cycles

In honor of this role, we’ve put together a list of awesome wildlife species that depend on forests.

1. Tree Kangaroo

Tree Kangaroos live in the lowland and mountainous rainforests of Papua, New Guinea, Indonesia, and parts of Queensland, Australia. Uniquely adapted to these cloud forests, their sharp claws help with climbing and a long tail keeps them balanced. Meanwhile, their thick chestnut-colored fur insulates against the damp and camouflages against predators.

They prefer to eat mature leaves and fresh-picked fruit, but will also collect fruit that has fallen to the ground. They also enjoy grains, flowers, sap, eggs, young birds, and even bark. A truly unique species, they were probably introduced to NG by humans and adapted to their new, arboreal environment over time. Pretty cool, right?

2. Foxes

Foxes build their dens in forests, rock formations, hollow logs and trees, and brush piles. Lined with grass and leaves, these dens provide a safe shelter for blind pups, especially in the first 5 weeks of their lives. They also use trees to escape their enemies, grabbing them with their forepaws and scrambling up with their claws and hind feet.

Foxes also help to control forest populations of rodents like voles and rabbits, and help to disperse seeds, further enhancing plant biodiversity around their habitats.

3. Gopher Tortoise

Gopher tortoises depend on forests for their very survival. As dry-land turtles, they live in the well-drained sandy soils of longleaf-pine forests, and dry oak sand hills. And as extraordinary diggers, they carve out extensive burrows underneath the forest floor, providing habitat and refuge for hundreds of other species, thus earning their designation as a keystone species.

Primarily herbivorous, they like to eat grasses, mushrooms, saw palmetto berries, and prickly pear cactus pads, fruits and flowers, along with blackberries, blueberries, gopher apples and other low-growing fruits.

4. Orangutan

The largest tree-climbing mammals in the world, orangutans sleep in nests of trees and vegetation. Ripe fruit is their favorite thing to eat, but you'll also catch them dining on young leaves, bark, flowers, honey, insects, vines, and the inner shoots of plants.

Thanks to their diet, they play a vital role in protecting biodiversity by eating fruits whole, then expelling the seeds in their droppings. In one study, scientists found 828 seeds in one fecal sample! And because droppings create a nice, moist environment for the digested seeds, successful germination is much more likely. Clearly, they’ve earned their title “man of the forest.”

5. Spruce Grouse

Spruce grouses live in the coniferous forests of the northern U.S. and Canada. Unusually nonchalant about human activities, their dark feathers provide an effective camouflage as they navigate their woodland homes. In fact, their plumage and demeanor combine to make them the bane of hunters and birders alike — so if you happen to see one, consider yourself lucky!

Pine, spruce, and other coniferous needles make up the bulk of their diet, but they also dine on fresh green shoots, leaves, berries, flowers, insects, snails, and fungi, helping to keep their populations in check. 

6. River Otter

North American river otters make their dens in abandoned burrows near water’s edge and can thrive in a range of ecosystems, including rivers, lakes, swamps, and estuaries. Their homes are comprised of hollow logs, log jams, piles of driftwood, and boulders. Although most of their lives are spent in the water, these playful Mustelids depend on healthy forests just as much as their terrestrial counterparts.

With razor sharp teeth and claws, they play an integral role in the maintenance of river ecosystems. As predators, they help to control populations of fish, crayfish, crabs, frogs, birds and some reptiles, which make up the bulk of their diet. Thanks to a fast metabolism, they need to eat often!

7. Gray Tree Frog

Gray tree frogs depend on water to breed, but live in adjacent mixed and deciduous forests. As a nocturnal species, they rest in tree holes, under bark, in rotten logs, under leaves, and under tree roots during the day. But once the sun goes down, the world is their oyster as they deftly traverse the forest in search of food, using their specially adapted toe pads to climb vertically and move horizontally as needed.

They play an important ecosystem role, consuming enough algae as tadpoles to alter the biology of the ponds they depend on. And once they reach adulthood, they reduce pesky bugs like mosquitoes, gnats, plant lice, mites, snails, slugs, and flies. They also provide a vital food source for larger frogs, some birds, and small mammals. 

And that's just the tip of the canopy, because trees play an essential role in global biodiversity. Want to give back? Consider planting a tree with us today!


We plant trees on 4 continents around the world. Want to choose where yours are planted?

by Meaghan Weeden

Forest Whisperer