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Hampshire College

Publication Date

Spring 2012

Program Name

Australia: Rainforest, Reef, and Cultural Ecology


Coarse woody debris (CWD) refers to the woody material on the forest floor, including fallen stems, large branches, coarse roots, wood pieces, and standing dead trees (snags) (Harmon et al. 1986). CWD is an essential but often overlooked aspect of ecosystems. It plays many key ecosystem roles and is instrumental in overall ecosystem functionality. While a piece of CWD decomposes, it provides key habitat for many different species, minimizes soil erosion, affects soil development, stores nutrients and water, and influences the global carbon cycle (Harmon and Hua 1991). In some forests, CWD can exist on the forest floor for hundreds of years, and therefore has an enduring influence on the forest comparable to that of living trees (Harmon and Hua 1991). Managed forests have considerably less CWD since most trees are being removed and therefore do not rot on the forest floor after they die (Spies et al. 1988). However, research on CWD is scarce. In order to properly address and correct this issue, forest managers need to increase their understanding of the dynamics and structure of CWD in a healthy, productive, and diverse forest. The objective of this study was to gain knowledge of the CWD in a 25‐ha rainforest plot in tropical North Queensland, Australia. This study assessed CWD in two ways: its relationship with stand structure and plant response to the disturbance associated with CWD. CWD was spatially heterogeneous within the 1‐ ha plot and measured values of CWD volume were relatively high compared to other rainforests in the world and other forests within Australia (Keller et al. 2004; Manning et al. 2007). CWD was found to generally decrease as number of tree stems and tree basal area increased, but the results were not conclusive. The number of pioneer species in a given area was found to increase as CWD volume increased. While significant relationships between CWD and stand structure are difficult to observe, future studies similar to this should be conducted to further explore the various factors that contribute to the differences observed in CWD volume across the rainforest landscape.


Ecology and Evolutionary Biology | Environmental Health and Protection | Natural Resources and Conservation | Natural Resources Management and Policy


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