Whether a standing snag or a rotting log, dead trees play vital role in maintain life roughly them. It’s crucial for anyone who cares around the planet’s wellness to recognize why a please tree found in nature is so crucial to preserving the fragile balance the the ecosystem roughly it.

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Tree Lifespans

The expectancy of phibìc American trees varies greatly relying on their types and circumstances. 

For example, the grey birch has actually a lifespan of only 30-50 years and is among those through the shortest lifespans. On the other hand, great Basin bristlecone pines have the right to live for hundreds of years. In fact, the earliest living individual organism in the human being is a an excellent Basin bristlecone pine tree still living in the White mountains of California the is over 5,000 year old! The exact location is protected.

While trees have the right to live for tens, or hundreds, or thousands of years since they continuous produce new tissues and also adapt to their surroundings, the reality is that many succumb much earlier because of injury and disease (and periodically both).

What is Tree Decay?

Decay is simply the process of rotting or decomposition.

The state tree decay and tree decomposition have the right to be used interchangeably to describe a biological procedure where wood’s cellulose and lignin convert to carbon dioxide and water, and also the remaining nutrients are just released right into the soil.

Conditions that cause Tree Decay


Tree wounds happen when a tree is injured, and they deserve to limit the tree’s capacity to take it in water or food properly and protect itself from infection, infestation, or disease. 

The two simple types the tree wounding space stubs and scars. 


A stub is created when tree branches or top break turn off or die. They can stick the end from the stem and also prevent the wound from closing and healing or leave a large hole, both of which invite decay. 

Storms v intense winds frequently knock tree branches off and cause stubbing.


When bark is eliminated or dies off, scars can leave the inside of the tree exposed to decay. 

Animals and humans can reason tree scarring. Bucks obstacle their odor on trees to entice does throughout the mating season. Black bears shimmy up versus trees to eliminate their winter coats and communicate with various other bears by leaving your scent-marks follow me trunks. If you have ever seen someone’s “Harry loves Sally” declaration sculpted into a trunk, this is yet another type of tree scarring that leaves a tree an ext prone come decay.

Wherever hardwood is cracked open, insects choose sugar maple borers or bark beetles can come in and also weaken the tree further. Birds favor sapsuckers and woodpeckers likewise drill right into wound sites and deepen cavities.

Root Damage

When roots nothing get sufficient oxygen or the right amount the water or break off, this to adjust the phase for degeneration to begin underground or on another component of the tree connected to the impacted roots.

What go Tree Decomposition look Like?


Many fungi, like the Armillaria, do their way onto decaying wood and also other organic matter using microscope spores that can drift in the wait for long distances.

Fungi will often inhabit a tree, living within them their totality life, only becoming active later, once the tree i do not care old or stressed. Various other fungi type symbiotic relationships v trees, choose the paris agaric, the classic white-spotted red toadstool, that grows roughly the roots of birch or pine and protects them versus parasitic species.

However, most regularly when we watch a fungus on the side of a tree it spells some level of trouble for the tree, like heart rot in one aspen.

Fungi can frequently spread by prolonging their networks of microscopic branches (called hyphae). As fungi spread their hyphae along a dying or dead tree, that releases enzymes that breakdown wood and, in ~ the very same time, permits the fungus to feed on it. Mushrooms later pop increase from the hyphae as the fruiting bodies of the fungus.

As decay advances, more organisms come follow me to assist, such as bacteria and also invertebrates, consisting of slugs, beetles, woodlice, and also millipedes. Organisms that feed on disc organic matter are called detritivores. As these creatures feeding on the wood, they open it up to raised moisture, resulting in it to gain wetter, which help it loss apart and decompose also faster. Mold additionally grows on wood – an additional example of a detritivore. 

Once rotten hardwood starts mix in through the soil, springtails and earthworms show up to feast top top it. Fungi transform the wood’s cellulose and lignin into softer tissues that then decompose together the fungi’s fruiting bodies die. 

Other indications of Tree Decomposition

Live tree can likewise rot from the inside out, making signs of degeneration trickier to spot. Besides the signs of wounding mentioned previously to look the end for, right here are some tips because that spotting a tree that can be rotting internally:

White, Brown, or Soft Rot

There room three varieties of tree rot lugged on by fungi: white rot, brown rot, and soft rot. Each reasons the timber of a tree to show up differently and also can regularly be it was observed in sticks and logs on the ground.

For example, white rot is current when wood appears lighter in color because the fungi feed on the lignin. It can additionally look fibrous because cellulose remains undamaged longer. The record industry periodically uses this natural, sustainable phenomenon to brighten sheets of file by presenting white-rot fungi that feed top top the lignin of timber chips before it’s processed right into pulp, a procedure referred as biobleaching.

Likewise, brown rot can make wood look crumbly and also browner in shade when greater amounts of lignin room left behind.

Not as lot is known about soft rot, but it occurs as soon as a fungus uses enzymes and also nitrogen in the floor to break down cellulose. It can appear comparable to brown rot since it also does no target lignin and causes timber to take it on a crumby, cubic appearance. Soft rotting logs are often partially buried in soil, giving fungus access to nitrogen native the soil.


Development that Fungi and also Mushrooms 

There room an awful many fungi and also mushroom arrays that feed on wood.

Soft or Brittle Wood

When a tree is in a weakened state, soft lumber can quickly fall apart, and brittle bark or branches tend to crack or tear turn off easily.

Discolored Leaves

Out-of-season, off-color leaves deserve to be a sign of many things, consisting of water or nutrient shortages, fungal or insect infestation, or mechanical damage to the branch, tribe or roots. In all cases, it is a authorize of stress, and also could cause decay. 

The price of Decomposition 

Since trees are woody, your fibers are tougher to malfunction than non-woody plants, for this reason they take longer to decompose. 

There are numerous factors that can determine the price at which a tree decomposes. It might be influenced by tree characteristics (species, age), climate (temperature, precipitation), and also other circumstances. The tougher the varieties of tree, the much longer the decay process. The wetter that is surroundings, the much faster a tree have the right to rot. If surroundings room dry, fewer fungi and also insects are active to breakdown wood, for this reason the procedure can take far longer.

How a collapse Tree provides Life


Nutrients and also Food Sources

The nutrients a tree used to develop itself during its life time are spread into the soil and also make it richer for various other plants roughly it to use. These nutrients are important for little trees come grow and replace the dead ones.

Fallen trees additionally sustain the many detritivores the feed on the disc wood, favor fungi and also beetles, earthworms, etc. This method that other pets that food on those detritivores additionally benefit, choose the robber fly that eats beetles. In turn, the predators of those predators can also find food (like birds and bats) and also so on.

More Light and Space


The room left by a please tree allows much more light to with the woodland floor as well as room for other vegetation to take root and also flourish. If a tree falls and also takes others down through it, this helps the plants approximately it also further.


Hollow logs are used by bears and smaller animals like foxes because that making your dens. Also, a good variety that detritivores make their residence in decaying wood, favor millipedes and also slugs.

Classroom activities Involving Tree Decomposition

Listed listed below are a selection of activities for students the will difficulty them come look in ~ a woodland in entirely new ways.

The collapse Log


Our “Fallen Log” complimentary family task helps youngsters understand the numerous amazing points living in and also on rotting logs. Shot it the end (in English or Español) to help kids understand exactly how decomposition occurs and also gain a better appreciation because that micro-habitats.

This task has been adapted from task 24—The fallen Log discovered in Project discovering Tree’s PreK-8 ecological Education activity Guide; purchase the full version the this activity and 95 other hands-on interdisciplinary activities at Shop.betterworld2016.org.

Nature’s Recyclers

It is critically necessary for every one of us to know the important function decomposers pat in nature v consuming dead material and recycling nutrients ago into the soil.

Help your students recognize that the final connect in the food chain is additionally the “first” connect in the chain of decomposition, and also learn to differentiate between the primary roles the producers, consumers, and decomposers in nature v Kris Irwin Ph.D.’s article “STEM Strategies: Nature’s Recyclers,” based upon the activity of the very same name from Project learning Tree’s PreK-8 eco-friendly Education task Guide.

The forest of S.T. Shrew

Help students gain an appreciation for the many living points that make forests their homes, and also for the range of habitats within. Read “In the woodland of S.T. Shrew” (also available en Español) to take children on a trip to the forest floor native the viewpoint of a small, and also often overlooked, forest creature.

Next, lug the lesson to life through pairing the story v our cost-free family activity (also accessible in English or Español) to attach S.T. Shew’s experiences through a to walk in the woods. This task has been adjusted from Project discovering Tree’s PreK-8 eco-friendly Education task Guide; purchase the complete version of this activity and 95 other hand-operated interdisciplinary activities at Shop.betterworld2016.org.

Understanding the Lifecycles the Trees

Encourage your students to find out the average age of trees typical to her area, or look the up together as a class. Which trees live the shortest and longest? do they find it surprising? following time they go for a stroll in the woods, have actually them count the ring in stumps (that each represents a year in the tree’s life) to obtain a far better grasp on how a types of tree may look in ~ a particular age. 

Also, examine out these great STEM activities that check out the life cycles that trees. These suggestions supplement task 79—Tree Lifecycle (also uncovered in betterworld2016.org’s PreK-8 guide) in i beg your pardon students investigate a tree’s function in the ecosystem in ~ each stage of that life. 

Grades PreK-12

For another activity that shows exactly how scientists identify the period of living and also nonliving trees, try this one from NOVA Teachers.

Grades 5-12

Are you trying to find downloadable lesson plans and tasks for city-dwelling students? In betterworld2016.org’s task 77–Trees in Trouble, you can become “tree-tectives” (tree detectives) by an initial examining neighborhood trees for indications of bad health and then investigate actions to help trees in trouble. Usage this activity’s college student Pages, Tree-tective trouble Guide and Reading sheet Symptoms, to examine trees for signs of damage or poor health.

Grades 1-8

Middle schoolers deserve to go a step further to discover their urban environment and also investigate environmental worries that affect their urban ar with betterworld2016.org’s “Discover Your metropolitan Forest” task Collection.

Grades 6-8

What Protects tree from Decay?

Great container Bristlecone pine tree Tree in Inyo County, California

Trees have certain characteristics that defend them from gaining hurt, lot like people do. Prefer our skin, a tree’s bark wraps about it and also works to save infection or intrusion out. Cell in a tree can sense infection and fight the off, lot like our immune solution do. If you spot gooey, amber-colored resin (thick sap) oozing native a tree’s trunk, the acting prefer a scab come seal the wound and protect itself. In what other ways are humans and trees similar?

Discuss with your class or have them research on your own: What protective and adaptive qualities might an excellent Basin bristlecone pines have that add to their an excellent longevity? go its environment additionally contribute to its lengthy life? If so, how? 

You can also divide your class into groups and also assign a particular tree types to each. Have each team research what characteristics or ecological factors contribute to the tree’s expectancy in a group PowerPoint project. 

Grades 5-12

Fun with Fungi

Teach your course all around the marvels of the mushroom kingdom with this lesson plan and also other valuable resources from the phibìc American Mycological Association.

Grades K-12

Enjoy these options of hands-on exercises that show what spores, mold, and also yeast look prefer in activity from National farming in the Classroom.

Grades 6-8


Do her students live near a forested area eastern of the Mississippi River? examine out the woodland Fungus job citizen science initiative!

Grades K-12

Decay Scavenger Hunts

Ask students to list or draw signs the tree decay and decomposition they notification along a walk. Deserve to you spot any trees the look most likely to fall? If so, explain why.Examine ranges of detritivores near you. Because that example, look on or under a decaying log in or a component of a rotting tree. Perform the qualities of the creatures you view in the disk wood and also observe your behavior. Friend can additionally do a rapid sketch of them.

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More an essential Thinking Exercises

How have the right to you preserve the health and balance of a delicate forest ecosystem in irradiate of learning around decay and decomposition? summary your ideas and reasoning in a record or PowerPoint and present it to the class.How do human being prevent houses, decks, call poles, instruments, and other things made of hardwood from decaying? study the assorted methods.