Rotted tree stump © Ita McCobb

What is deadwood?

Deadwood is an integral and often substantial component of natural forests. It provides wildlife habitat, maintains ecosystem health and influences geomorphological (relating to geological structure) processes.

The term “deadwood” applies to whole or part standing dead trees (snags) and any fallen material such as tree trunks, branches, stumps or small twigs. Dead and decaying trees are vital components of a properly functioning forest ecosystem and play a key role in sustaining biodiversity. Deadwood, from standing dead trees to fallen debris, is not a single habitat, but a complex range of different microhabitats that change and evolve over time.

Deadwood habitat also occurs on perfectly healthy trees in the form of rotting holes, dead limbs and “heart rot” where the centre of the tree is decaying.

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Dead trees © Ita McCobb

How is deadwood managed in forests?

In managed forests deadwood was removed in an attempt to control pests and fungal diseases to secure the health of forests or simply for aesthetic reasons, leading to widespread impoverishment of wood biodiversity.

The removal of decaying timber and old trees has led to a drastic decline in species such as insects, beetles, fungi and lichens and loss of the natural habitat of many mobile species such as woodpeckers.

However, attitudes have changed and it is now recognized that deadwood has an important part to play in forest management.

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References: Food & Agriculture Organization of the UN; Encyclopaedia Britannica; HortScience, American Society for Horticultural Science; College of Agricultural and Food Sciences, King Faisal University; Aramco World Magazine; Dr Frederique Aberlenc, Date palm cultivation for the development of desert areas.