Canadian Forest Service Publications

Buried wood: a common yet poorly documented form of deadwood. 2015. Moroni, M.T.; Morris, D.M.; Shaw, C.; Stokland, J.N.; Harmon, M.E.; Fenton, N.J.; Merganičová, K.; Merganič, J.; Okabe, K.; Hagemann, U. Ecosystems 18(4):605-628.

Year: 2015

Issued by: Northern Forestry Centre

Catalog ID: 35918

Language: English

Availability: PDF (request by e-mail)

Available from the Journal's Web site.
DOI: 10.1007/s10021-015-9850-4

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Buried wood (BW: downed deadwood buried more than 50% by soil, litter, or ground vegetation) is a common but understudied part of forest ecosystems. We reviewed the literature and conducted a meta-analysis of BW that included newdata from Australia, Belarus, Canada, Germany, Japan, Norway, Russia, Slovakia, Sweden, the USA, and Wales. Buried wood occurred in a wide range of forest types of natural and anthropogenic origin. In some forests, BW was effectively preserved and volumes of BW exceeded the volume of all other live and deadwood combined. Boreal and oroboreal coniferous forests contained large amounts of BW, whereas hardwood forests appeared to contain little BW due to differences in ground vegetation, wood decomposition pathways, and climatic and edaphic conditions. Coniferous forests growing on paludified ground represent areas with a large capacity to store BW. The largest quantity of BW reported was 935 m3 ha-1 in paludified black spruce (Picea mariana (Mill.)) forests, where typically mature live bole volumes are only 150 m3 ha-1. Buried wood can accumulate over several disturbance cycles (centuries), due to greatly reduced rates of decomposition following burial. As such, BW can represent a large forest C pool that is currently not recognized in forest C accounting using field measurements or models. Failing to account for wood burial can lead to underestimates of ecosystem deadwood stocks as well as misinterpretations of ecosystem dynamics. Buried wood and the burial process should be included in forest measurement and models, particularly for boreal and oroboreal ecosystems, to reduce uncertainty and improve accuracy in forest C accounting. This will require improvements to existing field sampling protocols and collection of long-term data on processes creating BW.

Plain Language Summary

After trees die in forests and fall to the ground their wood, especially stemwood, can be buried by fast growing ground cover vegetation. Because the wood is not visible at the surface its ecological role is overlooked. It is often assumed that the wood must have been removed from the forest either through decay, or combustion during a fire. This study combined published observations with new observations on buried wood in a wide variety of forest types from around the globe. We did this to identify forest types where wood burial is a potentially important process and to quantify amounts of buried wood. We concluded that the burial process is particularly important in types of forests common to the boreal zone where the diameter of the stemwood is small, ground vegetation is dominated by mosses, and conditions are cold and wet. It is important to include the wood burial process in computer models that are used to calculate forest carbon budgets in the boreal zone because the calculations would more accurately reflect how much carbon is stored in the forest, and how much is released to the atmosphere as greenhouse gases. This is important because it helps Canada provide better estimates of the carbon budget for meeting national and international reporting requirements.