Fungi and Forests: Mycobial diversity in Logging Piles

So I read this paper recently examining fungi and their abundance in logging waste material. The paper examined the process of degradation of logging piles, and how the presence of moisture influenced the abundance and diversity of fungi present in said piles. What they found was that, unsurprisingly, an increase in the moisture content of the logging slash pile increased the abundance and diversity of fungi present in the lumber.

These findings were interesting from an ecological standpoint. Logging, while it is an extremely harmful practice to the ambient environment, can be executed sustainably. The leavings from the extraction of trees, or the slash, provides forests a method of regeneration if left in the environment in a suitable manner. In this case, the “suitable manner” in question would be to leave the slash strewn about in the remaining woodland. This woody debris allows for small primary succession species to take root in the sheltered regions created by the woody debris. Fungi and other saprophytes can degrade this debris, restoring the humus layer of the soil after the damage logging caused. Based on this information, one would suspect that the aforementioned research was aimed to help promote the development of fungi in the logging slash.

Unfortunately, the paper in question isn’t looking to help the woodland. It’s looking at how to reduce the amount of fungi that will colonize the logging debris afterwards. This is due to recent interest in the economic usage of this “waste lumber” that is left on site after a logging event has occurred. Industry is always looking for methods to turn a profit. In this case, some regions of the world have begun collecting this “slash debris” and burning it for fuel. If one takes that sort of consumerist mentality, then the degradation of the lumber pile by fungi would be detrimental to the overall economic worth of the logging leavings.

Personally, I find this idea ridiculous. Logging does enough damage to the environment itself, and causing more damage to the area by not allowing it to recover is infuriatingly unsustainable. By removing this “waste”, the soil in the logged region will have a hard time recovering. Small plants, which could have been shaded by the woody debris, will not be able to take root and hold the topsoil to the ground. Water will quickly rush down the barren hillside, degrading the precious topsoil that took millennia to develop. The ecological damage would be horrifying.

Even worse is that this type of damage is already occurring in other countries around the world. In some Northern European countries, this activity has significantly harmed the biodiversity of their conifer forests. By damaging the soil, it becomes progressively more challenging for young plants to establish themselves. In time, only the most generalist and resilient plants will be able to survive in the relatively barren “logging stands” that remain. It is fortunate that here in Canada, there are protocols limiting the extraction of this apparent “waste lumber” that is left at a logging area.

Waste is the wrong term. Everything will eventually be useful in the wild. It is only human’s that differentiate between things as “wasteful” or “worthwhile”. Nature doesn’t make that distinction; nothing is left, everything is consumed in one cycle or another.

 

Image credit: Strychnos-Toxifera (Me!)

 

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