Let’s talk about deadwood, in times gone by deadwood was often seen as a sign of poor forest management, something diseased to be gotten rid of. In actual fact, deadwood is an often overlooked haven of life in forest ecosystems. We will mostly be focusing on species that occur in Europe for this piece. Broadly speaking, deadwood is any part of the forest that is no longer living but it is like a lifeboat for species who thrive in forests. Deadwood is becoming increasingly recognised as a key indicator of naturalness in forest ecosystems in the European Union and is arguably one of the most important factors for increasing biodiversity in forests. Deadwood can be divided into two groups, standing and lying deadwood. Standing deadwood consists of standing dead trees, snags and stumps. Snags are vertical pieces of dead trees generally taller than a stump. Lying deadwood includes fallen trees and logs.
What are the advantages of including deadwood in forest management strategies? Deadwood is very important for biodiversity and conservation of species in forests but also performs other crucial ecosystem functions such as storing carbon and improving forest productivity. It provides food and habitats for many species of plants, fungi, and lichens not to mentions insects, bats, birds, and even bears seek refuge in deadwood. Deadwood supports species on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Many saproxylic beetles which make their home on deadwood are on this list. These beetles primarily survive on dead or decaying wood. One particularly enigmatic-looking Red List species is the Rosalia longicorn (Rosalia alpina) which is found across the central band of Europe. The beech tree (Fagus) is the favoured tree of this species across its range.
Deadwood is like an ecological island, an oasis in a forest landscape. The species that survive on deadwood are particularly vulnerable to habitat fragmentation and habitat shortages. Though there is a huge variety of deadwood many species are often specialised on particular types of deadwood which can make them poor dispersers. The Porcelain fungus (Oudemansiella mucida) is strongly associated with the deadwood of the beech tree and is found across northern and central Europe. This species is usually found growing on the dead trunks and fallen branches of beech. The cap of this fungus is white or ivory and covered in a mucous slime. The gills are white, broadly spaced and joined at the stem which is thin and white. Certain trees are native to certain areas as are the species that are associated with a tree’s deadwood. One such species is the saproxylic beetle Crotchiella brachyptera, a rare montane species endemic to the Azores. Generally, the larvae of this species develop in the dead branches of the Azores laurel (Laurus azorica).
Deadwood type and decay stage are important for maintaining biodiversity at the local, regional, and national level in forest ecosystems. Diverse types of deadwood in forest management strategies have the potential to maximise the biodiversity of forests. Some species prefer certain ages of trees which is why different successional stages in forests can be an important aspect of deadwood management. The White-backed woodpecker (Dendrocopos leucotos) prefer to live in mature, deciduous forests of birch, beech and elm across northern and central Europe. The White-backed woodpecker has striking white bars along its wings. The males have a red crown and the females have a black crown on their head.
What can you take way from this piece? Deadwood is a dynamic resource and an indispensable asset to any forest. It supports different kinds of species some of which have been the focus of this piece. It has huge potential to increase biodiversity of species in forests and plays an important role in the conservation of many species. Increasing forest biodiversity has been shown to increase forest productivity and improve the uptake of carbon in forests. Biodiverse forests do not mean a compromise in forest productivity and forest management could incorporate biodiversity initiatives like increasing the amount and type of deadwood. We have been introduced to some exciting species so far and there are many more that you can discover for yourself on your next walk through the woods.
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