How wood decay is affected by the environment?

Wood debris

Wood debris from forests form part of the nutrient cycle in these ecosystems. Hence, these can affect the structure of the ecosystem (Francis et al., 2008). For example, these serve as carbon and nitrogen storage pools (Elosegi et al., 2007) and will slowly release these into the soil to replenish nutrients. Wood debris can also serve as shelter for small organisms (for example, ants and snails) which play significant roles in these forests ecosystems. The rate of decay of wood debris is also important and this regulates how much nutrient will be present in the soil at given times.

woody-debris

Environmental effect on wood debris decay rate

With increasing deforestation, these wood debris are less available and hence a large portion of the nutrient cycle is being taken away. A recent study (conducted over 12 years) by Andersen et al., in 2016, aimed to investigate how different environmental conditions would affect the rate of wood debris degradation. They found that in warm environments and moist environments, decay rate was significantly faster than in cold and dry environments. This was attributed to the presence of more microbes in moist environments and hence these could help with the decay processes. With higher temperatures, the decay rate was higher due to the microbes ‘working’ at a higher activity and also due to more kinetic energy being present in the wood debris.

Implication

With climate change, the earth’s temperature is obviously getting higher and we can apply this to the above study. In some regions, nutrients might be released from the wood debris at a faster rate than usual. This could lead to increased survival of native species but on the other hand, invasive species can also thrive in such areas, potentially leading to decreased biodiversity. In areas with high deforestation activities, the humidity would be lower due to less trees available to trap moisture. Decreased wood debris and moisture would lead to lower decay rate and hence less nutrients are available. Survival of native species would become harder and biodiversity might decrease.

References

Andersen DC, Stricker CA, Nelson SM. 2016. Wood decay in riverine environments. Forest Ecology and Management. 365: 83-95

Francis RA, Petts GE., Gurnell AM. 2008. Wood as a driver of past landscape
change along river corridors. Earth Surf. Process. Landforms. 33 (10): 1622–1626.
http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/esp.1626.

Elosegi A, Diez J, Pozo J. 2007. Contribution of dead wood to the carbon flux in
forested streams. Earth Surf. Process. Landforms. 32 (8): 1219–1228. http://dx.doi.
org/10.1002/esp.1549.

Photo from http://grow.cals.wisc.edu/environment/the-new-old-forest

Mohammad Arshad Imrit

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