Why Dead Trees Matter
Contribution by Lilly Krauss:
When you venture in the wooded area of Marquand park, you may notice fallen trees and large branches on the ground. In this area of the park called natural woods, trees grow, mature, reproduce, die, and decompose without human intervention. Because dead trees are left undisturbed, natural woods have a healthier and more diverse ecosystem than wooded areas where fallen trees are routinely cleared.
When a fallen tree begins to rot on the ground, fungi and other microorganisms that live on dead wood break down the tree’s cell wall, thereby releasing carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, and other essential nutrients to the soil. This decomposition produces rich organic matter for other trees to use.
Even standing dead trees, called snags, play an important role in the forest by supplying food and microhabitats. You may find snags stripped of their bark because in particular, deer and other small animals like to eat the bark. Woodpeckers bore deep holes in snags to get at insects or larvae within. These holes become nesting sites for woodland birds. Rotting tree bases provide homes for small mammals. Finally, birds of prey use standing dead trees as lookouts.
To read more about the importance of natural woods:
- Dead Wood by Dan Puplett.
- Science News for Students, recycling the dead, by Kathiann Kowalski
- The Biological Carbon Cycle, by Professor Patricia Shapley, University of Illinois, 2010
- Science findings, PNW Pacific Northwest Research Station, Vol. 20, November 1999
- Whether fallen or standing, trees have many uses, by Karen Maserjian Shan, February 28, 2015