A woodland is a low-density forest forming open habitats with plenty of sunlight and limited shade.
While woodland is a “small” forest, the biggest difference between a forest and woodland lies in the density of trees found in each and the size of the area they cover. A forest covers a big land area with a high population of trees, while woodland has a much lower concentration of trees and a smaller land area.
Low tree population allows the formation of open habitats that enjoy limited shade and plenty of sunlight.
Depending on the amount of light reaching the ground through the tree canopy, there will be a great variety of other plants. These will include mosses, ferns and lichens, as well as small flowering herbs, grasses and shrubs.
The more different kinds of plants there are, the greater the animal diversity will be in the woodland. This will range from a variety of herbivores feeding on the different plants, to the carnivores which they provide food for. Plenty of rotting wood and decaying leaf litter offer an alternative food source for a staggering variety of invertebrates.
Coniferous woodland, as its name suggests, is made up predominantly of conifers. Conifers are trees often having needle-like leaves, such as the familiar Christmas tree.
Broadleaf woodland is composed of trees with leaves which are not needle-like. The leaves of different broadleaf trees come in all varieties of shapes and sizes, but tend to be flat, broad shapes quite unlike the needles of conifers.
Woodlands cover about 25% of Africa and represent the most widespread vegetation type in tropical Africa.
In Australia, a woodland is defined as an area with sparse (10–30%) cover of trees, and an open woodland has very sparse (<10%) cover.
A woodland is called woods in the US.
Woodlot is a closely related American term which refers to a stand of trees generally used for firewood. While woodlots often technically have closed canopies, they are so small that light penetration from the edge makes them ecologically closer to woodland than forest.
The term ancient woodland is used in British nature conservation to refer to any wooded land that has existed since 1600, and often for thousands of years, since the last Ice Age. (equivalent to the American term old-growth forest).
Extensive efforts by conservationist groups have been made to preserve woodlands from urbanization and agriculture.
In the classification of archaeological cultures of North America, the Woodland period of North American pre-Columbian cultures spanned a period from roughly 1000 BC to European contact in the eastern part of North America, with some archaeologists distinguishing the Mississippian period, from 1000 AD to European contact as a separate period. The term “Woodland Period” was introduced in the 1930s as a generic term for prehistoric sites falling between the Archaic hunter-gatherers and the agriculturalist Mississippian cultures.