When they die, small plants or animals return to forest floor to decay, or provide a meal for other wildlife. Because trees consist of cellulose and lignins that most animals can’t digest, they decay more slowly. About the only living things that can digest wood are termites and some fungi. But even termites can’t digest wood by themselves. They have special micro-organisms (protozoa) in their gut, which break down the cellulose.
- improve the soil by adding organic matter.
- retain moisture for the soil during dry periods.
- provide a seed bed for regenerating trees.
- provide a site for nitrogen-fixing bacteria (add nitrogen to soil).
Dead trees, whether standing snags or fallen logs, are habitat for an astonishingly variety of plants and animals. They provide:
- a place for small mammal dens and bird nests;
- home for many herbs, mosses, ferns;
- home for spiders, insects, etc., which are the base of the food chain;
- foraging site for many insectivorous birds such as woodpeckers;
- food, protection, shelter, cover, and suitable climate for thousands of tiny organisms; and,
- escape routes for small animals fleeing from fire.
Even dead wood that falls into a stream continues to perform an ecological role. It provides habitat and a source of food for aquatic animals and plants. It controls current velocities and helps prevent scouring of the streambed. It stabilizes stream banks, and provides waterfalls and pools important for fish feeding and spawning.
Removing coarse woody debris and snags from Whitemud Creek Ravine interrupts the energy and nutrient cycles. Ultimately, the growth, productivity and diversity of the forest would start to decline as a result.