Direct estimates of downslope deadwood movement over 30 years in a temperature forest illustrate impacts of treefall on forest ecosystem dynamics

Deadwood plays important roles in forest ecosystems by storing carbon, influencing hydrology, and provisioning countless organisms. Models for these processes often assume that deadwood does not move and ignore redistribution that occurs when trees fall. To evaluate the effects of treefall, we provide the first direct estimates for the magnitude, direction, and drivers of deadwood movement in a long-term oak–hickory forest dynamics plot in Missouri, USA. Among 1871 total pieces of deadwood, logs today pointed downslope more often than branches and occurred at lower elevation than snags. Of these, 477 logs retained tags from which we reconstructed movement using new formulae for reconciling survey coordinates and calculating log shape. Relocated logs occurred at lower elevation than their original rooting location, with the magnitude of the drop dependent on log size, degree of decay, and slope. Although changes in elevation were modest, the log centroids moved up to several meters horizontally. Consequently, as large trees fall, they predictably redistribute deadwood downhill, suggesting that models of deadwood dynamics in small inventory plots may gain accuracy by incorporating import and export along with recruitment and decay. We highlight implications of small-scale deadwood movement for forest inventories, carbon dynamics, and biodiversity.

Oberle, B., A.M. Milo, J.A. Myers, M.L. WaltonT, D.F. Young & A.E. Zanne.
Canadian Journal of Forest Research