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The Ecologist Ode

Beauty buds from mire
and I,
a singer in season,
observe Death is a name for beauty not in use.

By Irving Layton

Scanned copy, if there are errors, please e-mail me with corrections: 
Opening comments:

This article is posted along with other references and links to dead, rotten and sometimes smelly stuff, normally found in nature, to give some quick insight into how the ecosystem really works and why Nature's way is best.

Often people will look at fallen trees in the Cawthra Bush and say the forest needs to be cleaned up.  Translation - let me collect the dead wood for my firewood.  Completely wrong minded but an all too common and socially acceptable selfish train of thought.  Especially true for small fragmented forests that must depend on recycling as much of their bio-mass (themselves), as they can.  Any good gardener or farmer will tell you that if you keep removing what grows from the soil and never put back then the soil will become depleted of the nutrients, the building blocks of life and support less and less of the living.  This is how a desert is created and what humans' do best.

The value of dead trees is properly not appreciated, both standing and fallen.  Dead standing trees are very important to forest wildlife as den trees, whether they as birds, mammals or insect.  In DEATH'S  BOUNTY, great insight is provided into the value of dead trees as they fall to earth and a recycled into other trees and plants as well as the process itself.

The role of salamanders is a great one as they go deep into the ground, eat what lives down there and often are eaten or die on (or closer to), the surface.  Bring energy back up to surface.  It has been shown that bio-mass of salamanders in a forest can equal or exceed the bio-mass other wildlife in the same area, combined!  Hope post more on this later.

References for further understanding and aiding an Internet search are provided.

From the Globe & Mail Mar. 28, 1992, Sat.



When dead trees are removed from woodlands, nature is the loser.
Fallen trees teem with new life, serve as warehouses for nutrients and make a home for young plants.

     IF you don't believe there's life after death, look closer some spring day at a dead tree lying on the forest floor.  Chances are, if it has been there for a while, it is teeming with more life now than when it was standing erect lifting its leafy arms to the sky.

     Though it lacks the spring finery that inspires poets and lovers, a leafless tree is often more valuable to its forest dead than alive, say U.S. ecologists working in the old-growth forests of the Pacific Northwest.  This fact, they say, has been largely ignored by woodhungry forest managers in most of the U.S. and Europe, where overzealous harvesting of "deadwood" has depleted forests and rendered them highly susceptible to environmental stresses like acid rain.

     "Rotten wood was once considered just a fire hazard, a waste, an impediment to travel," says Dr. Michael Amaranthus, a soil scientist with the United States Forest Service in Grants Pass, Ore.  "We are seeing it as an essential part of the forest system, crucial to its long-term productivity.  It provides a reservoir of moisture and nutrients, of habitats and food resources for a diversity of organisms.  Our understanding of the importance of dead wood has increased a lot in the last 10 years."

     When nature cries "timber," countless unseen denizens of the forest rush to take up lodging.   Dead trees serve as warehouses and even factories for vital nutrients that enrich the soil and foster new growth.  They store carbon, thus curbing atmospheric carbon dioxide and the pace of global warming.  They hold volumes of water that sustain growing trees in droughts.  And they serve as nurseries for new plant life, providing cozy niches where seeds can gain a firm roothold.

     The trunk is consumed by a succession of microbes, plants and animals that help to replenish the soil as they break down the wood.  As a result, say forest ecologists Chris Maser and James M. Trappe, the tree is an accumulation of life and nutrients that is greater than the sum of its original parts.

     "In a forest where the trees are repeatedly cut and removed, the soil becomes depleted, the structures deteriorate and the forest loses its resilience for ... stress," says Mr. Trappe, a forest mycologist (a fungus botanist) at Oregon State University in Corvallis.

     This has already happened in Germany, where the forests are being severely damaged by air pollution and acid rain, he says.

     Fallen trees help to preserve the forest by stemming the erosion of soil from wooded slopes and diverting streams that in straight courses might gouge out soil.  In fresh waterways, fallen trees trap nutrient-rich sediments and create pools where fish can spawn and fry develop.

     Beyond the forest, dead trees help stabilize beaches and create habitats for wildlife in estuaries and salt marshes.  Logs that reach the open sea serve as a major source of carbon and other foodstuffs for marine life.

     "The function of dead trees in the ecosystem has rarely received the consideration it deserves," says Dr. Jerry F. Franklin, an ecosystem analyst at the University of Washington's College of Forest Resources in Seattle.  "At the time a tree dies, it has only partially fulfilled its potential ecological function.  In its dead form, a tree continues to play numerous roles as it influences surrounding organisms.  The woody structure may remain for centuries and influence habitat for millennia."

     As scientists with the U.S. Forest Service in Corvallis in the 1980s, Mr. Maser and Mr. Trappe produced a technical review, The Seen and Unseen World of the Fallen Tree, that could easily become Exhibit A in the ongoing case to preserve forests.

     Using the unmanaged 450-year-old forests of Douglas fir in the Pacific Northwest, they showed that dead wood was far more than mere waste or a fire hazard to be removed as quickly as possible.

     "A dead or fallen tree is simply an altered state of a five tree and has hundreds of years of contribution it can make," says Mr. Maser.  "The big question is how much wood needs to be left in the landscape as a biological reinvestment in the land that supports us all."

     Once a tree falls, it passes through five distinct phases of decay, Messrs.   Maser and Trappe wrote.  At each stage, the tree supports new life for which it is the principal habitat.

     In the first phrase, invading fungi ooze out enzymes that liberate the tree's nitrogen for use by other organisms.  Tiny organic inhabitants fertilize the log with their excrement.

     Carpenter ants are most active in the second stage.  Their catholic diet includes butterflies and the honeydew of aphids.  Nesting in fallen logs, they carry nutrients into the tree from the outside.  Termites take over a little later, importing in their wood-chomping bodies both protozoa that digest cellulose and bacteria that capture atmospheric nitrogen.  By the time a termite colony is ready to move on, it has created a labyrinth of passageways in the tree that can be used by other animals and by the roots of invading plants.

     As logs reach stage three, their bark and sapwood is sloughed off and plants have taken root.  The logs become ready for occupation by a wide range of animals.

     At stage four, the two Scientists say various mites, insects, slugs and snails feed on the higher plants that become established on the rotten wood.  In this microenvironment, mites thrive on the dead plant and animal matter that accumulates on fallen trees.  The Sketons of dead mites, in turn, serve as incubators for fungal spores, and the fungi provide sustenance for other invading organisms.

     At stage five, the tree is no more than a powdery mass.  Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, soil to soil.  But by then it has been home to a diversity of organisms, a starting point for the food chain.

     A case in point: Among the ecologically important denizens of fallen Douglas fit is the California redbacked vole.  The rodent eats mostly fungi and lichens but has a particular passion for truffles.

     The vole disperses the spores of the truffle, inoculating decaying trees with this valued foodstuff.  This benefits other truffle-eaters, including the squirrels and mice that are the principal foodstuffs of the spotted owl and other carnivores.

     "The spotted-owl debate is not case of owls versus people," says Mr. Trappe.  "It's a question of whether we want the diversity of organism that the natural forest provides, or in its place a monoculture in which many organisms will disappear."
[ Hey can you spot the salamander??? ]

References for further understanding and aiding an Internet search are provided;

Amaranthus M. - J.M. Trappe - L. Bednar    1994,
Hypogeous fungal production in mature Douglas-fir forest fragments and surrounding plantations and its relation to coarse woody debris and animal mycophagy.
Canadian Journal of Botany    242157-2165

DeGraaf, M.; Shigo, A. L.    1985,
Managing Cavity Trees for Wildlife in the Northeast
US Forest Ser. Gen. Rep. NE-101

Edmonds, Robert L.  and James L. Marra    1999,
Decomposition of Woody Material Nutrient Dynamics, Invertebrate/ Fungi Relationships and Management in Northwest Forest.
USDA Forest Service General Technical Report PNW-GTR-461 June    68-78

Franklin,  Jerry, Cromack, Jr.,  Kermit, et al. others , Feb. 1981,
Ecological Characteristics of Old-Growth Douglas-Fir Forests
USDA Forest Service General Technical Report PNW-118    50 Pages

Franklin, J. F., H. H. Shugart and M. E. Harmon     1987,
Tree Death as an Ecological Process (The causes, consequences, and variability of tree
BioScience Vol. 37 No.8; Pg 550-556

Graham, Harvey, Jurgensen, Jain, Tonn and Page-Dumroese    Sept 1994,
Managing Coarse Woody Debris in Forest of the Rocky Mountains
USDA Research Paper INT-RP-477, 13 pages

Hardwick, R. C.    1987,
The Nitrogen Content of Plants and the Self-thinning Rule of Plant Ecology
A Test of the Core-skin Hypothesis
Annals of Botany 60439-446

Harmon et al    1986,
Ecology of Coarse Woody Debris in Temperate Ecosystems.
Advances in Ecological Research    (15) 133-301

Harmon, M., W. K. Ferrell and J. F. Franklin    Feb 1990,
Affects of Carbon Storage of Conversion of Old-Growth Forest to Young Forest
Science Vol. 247; pg 699-700

Harmon, M.E.and C. Hua      Oct 1991,
Coarse Woody Debris Dynamics in Two Old-Growth Ecosystems
Bioscience Vol.  41 No.  9

Harmon M.E.- J. Sexton- B.A. Caldwell and S.E. Carpenter 1994,
Fungal sporocarp mediated losses of Ca, Fe, K, Mg, Mn, N, P, and Zn from conifer logs in the early stages of decomposition.
Can. J. For. Res.     241883-1893

Harvey     A.E.    M.J. Larsen and M.F. Jurgensen  1976,
Distribution of ectomycorrhizae in a mature Douglas-fir/larch forest soil in western Montana.
Forest Science 22393-398

Harvey, A.E., M.F. Jurgensen, and M.J. Larsen.   1981,
Organic reserves Importance to ectomycorrhizae in forest soils of western Montana.      Forest Science     27442-445

Hornbeck, J.W., Smith, Q.W., Martin, Q.W., Tritton, L.M. and Pierce, R.S., 1990,
Effects of Intensive Harvesting on Nutrient Capitals of Three Forest Types in New England.
Forest Ecology and Management 3055-64

Hornbeck, J.W. 1992,
Comparative impacts of forest harvest and acid precipitation on soil and streamwater acidity Environmental  Pollution 77 151-155

Kropp, B.R.  1982,
Rotten wood as mycorrhizal inoculum for containerized western hemlock.
Canadian Journal of Forest Research.  12428-431

Kruys, N. and B.G. Jonsson  1999,
Fine woody debris is important for species richness on logs in managed boreal spruce forests of northern Sweden
Can. J. For. Res.     291295-1299

Maser, Chris, Robert F. Tarrant, James M. Trappe, and Jerry F. Franklin  1988,
From the Forest to the Sea A Story of Fallen Trees
USDA Forest Service General Technical Report PNW-GTR-229

Page-Dumroese, Harvey, Jurgensen and Graham  1991,
Organic Matter Function In The Western-Montane Forest Soil System
UDSA Gen. Tech. Rep. INT-280 Intermountain Research Station95-100
Shigo, A. L.   1969,
Death And Decay of Trees
Natural History; 7842-47

Shigo, A. L.  June 1977,
Communication of Knowledge and Needs Between Forest Researchers and Practicing Foresters.
Northern Logger and Timber Processor; pg 11 and pg 38;

Shigo, A. L. 1994,
Shigo And Trees, Associates, 40 pages.

Shigo, A. L. 1996,
Troubles in the Rhizosphere,
Tree Care Industry , Volume VII, Number 10.

Shigo, A. L. 1999,
Tree Pithy Points,
Shigo And Trees, Associates

Shigo, A. L. June 2000,
Tree Education and Philosophy,
Tree Care Industry Volume XI, Number 6

Trappe, J.M.  1977,
Selection of Fungi for Ectomycorrhizal Inoculation in Nurseries.
Ann. Rev. Phytopath., 15203-22

Voller, Joan and Scott Harrison    1998,
Conservation Biology Principles for Forested Landscapes
UBC Press

Wargo, P.M. and H. R. Skutt  1975 ,
Resistance to Pulsed Electric Currentan Indicator of Stress in Forest Trees
Can. J. For.Res. Vol. 5, pg 557-561

Williams, Ted    May 1991,
Don't Worry Plant A Tree
Audubon, pg 24-33

Woodier, Oliwen     1998 (Dec /January),
Turning Deadwood into Lively Homes for Wildlife
National Wildlife pg 14-15

By John A. Keslick, Jr., Tree Biologist.

SHIGO AND TREES, ASSOCIATES ? Scientific Books, video, and articles.

Dead Tree Web - Dynamics of the Dead Wood Cycle

Forest Ecology and Management
An international journal concerned with the application of biological, ecological and social knowledge to the management of man-made and natural forests.

USDA Forest Service - St. Paul Field Office.
Alphabetized Publications Listing image Alphabetized List
A complete listing of our publications alphabetized on our web site.

University of Washington - College of Forest Resources  - Research Programs

Russia's Forest Industry and Ecology

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