Quantifying carbon stores and decomposition in dead wood: A review

Matthew B. Russell, Shawn Fraver, Tuomas Aakala, Jeffrey H. Gove, Christopher W. Woodall, Anthony W. D'Amato, Mark J. Ducey

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

115 Scopus citations


The amount and dynamics of forest dead wood (both standing and downed) has been quantified by a variety of approaches throughout the forest science and ecology literature. Differences in the sampling and quantification of dead wood can lead to differences in our understanding of forests and their role in the sequestration and emissions of CO2, as well as in developing appropriate strategies for achieving dead wood-related objectives, including biodiversity protection, and procurement of forest bioenergy feedstocks. A thorough understanding of the various methods available for quantifying dead wood stores and decomposition is critical for comparing studies and drawing valid conclusions. General assessments of forest dead wood are conducted by numerous countries as a part of their national forest inventories, while detailed experiments that employ field-based and modeling methods to understand woody debris patterns and processes have greatly advanced our understanding of dead wood dynamics. We review methods for quantifying dead wood in forest ecosystems, with an emphasis on biomass and carbon attributes. These methods encompass various sampling protocols for inventorying standing dead trees and downed woody debris, and an assortment of approaches for forecasting wood decomposition through time. Recent research has provided insight on dead wood attributes related to biomass and carbon content, through the use of structural reduction factors and robust modeling approaches, both of which have improved our understanding of dead wood dynamics. Our review, while emphasizing temperate forests, identifies key research needs and knowledge which at present impede our ability to accurately characterize dead wood populations. In sum, we synthesize the current literature on the measurement and dynamics of forest dead wood carbon stores and decomposition as a baseline for researchers and natural resource managers concerned about forest dead wood patterns and processes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)107-128
Number of pages22
JournalForest Ecology and Management
StatePublished - Aug 5 2015

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Ben Bond-Lamberty, Mark Harmon, John Stanovick, Paul Van Deusen and an anonymous reviewer for comments that improved this work. This work was supported by the USDA Forest Service-Northern Research Station , University of Minnesota-Department of Forest Resources , the Department of Interior Northeast Climate Science Center , and the Academy of Finland (Project no. 252629).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 Elsevier B.V.


  • Carbon flux
  • Coarse woody debris
  • Downed dead wood
  • Forest fuels
  • Forest inventory
  • Standing dead trees


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