Habitat elements, those pieces of the environment that in certain sizes, numbers, and distribution influence habitat quality for vertebrates, are not uniformly distributed across stands and forests. Some stands have high vertical diversity and others are rather simple in their vertical structure. Some support a deep litter layer and others virtually none. Browse quantity and quality vary tremendously depending on the plant species, growth rates, shade, and past browsing. So what is it that influences these patterns of habitat elements? In this chapter, we will explore the physical factors influencing patterns of habitat elements.
Although habitat is not simply vegetation, vegetation is shaped by natural disturbances and is the part of the environment that we can influence by silviculture and harvest planning. The patterns and dynamics of vegetation have a significant effect on the patterns and dynamics of habitat elements. Most of this chapter will focus on the physical processes influencing the pattern of vegetation and habitat elements associated with vegetation, and then in the Chapters 6 and 7 we will address how cultural features and disturbances change those patterns.