The role of carcasses in forest ecology

This talk was given to the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists on 17 January 2013.

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Yes, this really is a talk about why forests need more dead animals.

Fallen trees, known technically as ‘coarse woody debris’, provide habitat for species including birds, salamanders, beetles, and fungi. This talk begins with the topic of coarse woody debris, and then moves on to the main topic, dead animals (‘coarse meaty debris’). Corpses support large food webs, particularly in northern landscapes where wolves generate kills during the winter. Birds ranging from chickadees to eagles feed on winter carcasses. I explore several lines of evidence suggesting that modern forests are deficient in carcasses, and therefore have reduced biological diversity.