CA Mushrooms
CA Mushrooms

Book Review

Biodiversity in Dead Wood

By Jogeir N. Stokland, Juha Siitonen, & Bengt Gunnar Jonsson
2012, Cambridge University Press.
ISBN: 978-0-521-88873-8 Hardback
ISBN: 978-0-521-71703-8 Paperback
$75; 509 pages

During their decomposition, dead trees offer habitats for thousands of species. This diversity has been studied by researchers interested in particular groups of organisms, such as cavity-nesting birds, wood-decaying fungi or saproxylic (“wood eating”) invertebrates. But a comprehensive overview of the species communities inhabiting trees after their death has not really been taken up by any authors previously. Biodiversity in Dead Wood is a tremendous resource and fills a huge hole on my bookshelf that was in dire need of such a reference.

This book deals mostly with insects (and other arthropods) and fungi. Lots of fungi. And with good reason. Fungi are the most important wood decayers and play a pivotal role by transforming woody material into forms that then become available for many other species living in dead wood. The process of fungal decay starts in wounds and dead branches of live trees. Later, when the tree dies, other fungi gain access to the woody material and immediately speed up the decomposition process. Most mycophiles are familiar with wood-rot fungi. Most books on fungi or field guides do show lots of wood rotters—it’s inevitable—but rarely discuss much about them other than host trees or where they’re found (and if they’re edible, of course). Rarely is mentioned their physiology or life cycle, or how they ended up in that tree host to begin with. If you find yourself with those same unanswered questions, Biodiversity in Dead Wood is for you. Fungal rot types are traditionally divided into three major categories: white rot, brown rot, and soft rot which are recognized by their overall effects on wood coloration and consistency. This book gives great, albeit readable, information on the chemistry of how this happens, plus discussion of many of the wood-rot species.

And then there are the arthropods. A tremendous percentage of arthropods (and keep in mind, insects are the most successful animals on the planet—the majority of all named life is in the Class Insecta) feed on woody material. But all that munching and gnawing won’t do much good without the amazing diversity of fungi and other microbes that have the ability to enzymatically digest the cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin that gives plants structure. Trees are loaded with the stuff. And when they die all that nutrition and energy is there for the taking … if it can be digested. So this book makes for very fascinating reading, documenting exceptionally well, the association of all the organism groups that are found with dead wood.

Chapters include: 1) Introduction (including discussion of biodiversity of decaying wood, and structure of the book); 2) Wood Decomposition (including discussion of wood components, enzymatic degradation of wood by fungi, bacteria, and animals); 3) The Saproxylic Food Web (covers all manner of organisms associated with decaying wood); 4) Other Associations with Dead Woody Material; 5) Host-tree Associations (includes differences between conifer and broadleaf trees; 6) Mortality Factors and Decay Succession (including fungal succession within rotting wood in the forest); 7) Microhabitats (wounds, cavities, dead branches and roots, fungal fruitbodies, etc.); 8) Tree Size; 9) The Surrounding Environment (covers abiotic factors, water, etc.); 10) The Evolution of Saproxylic Organisms; 11) Species Diversity of Saproxylic Organisms (includes mostly a close look at northern European species, which is the authors’ home range); 12) Natural Forest Dynamics; 13) Dead Wood and Sustainable Forest Management; 14) Population Dynamics and Evolutionary Strategies; 15) Threatened Saproxylic Species (includes information on how to determine declining species and causes, plus value of those organisms to forest … but to humans as well, e.g., antimicrobial medicines etc.; 16) Dead Wood in Agricultural and Urban Habitats; 17) The Value and Future of Saproxylic Diversity; a very extensive References section; and Index.

Based on notes that came with the book, Biodiversity in Dead Wood originally was published in 2012 but somehow flew under my radar. Maybe it has only recently become available in North America. Not sure, but I’m very glad to now have this reference and, as a researcher studying forest mushroom – insect associations for three decades, I know I’ll refer back to this book over and over in the future. The authors, Jogeir N. Stokland, Juha Siitonen, Bengt Gunnar Jonsson hail from Norway, Finland, and Sweden, so many of the references cited are from research conducted in northern Europe. Admittedly, the researchers of Fenno- Scandia have outpaced us in North America, so this would be the case if written by North American authors as well. This book is part of the Ecology, Biodiversity, and Conservation series of books by Cambridge University Press. The new Ecology, Biodiversity, and Conservation series present balanced, comprehensive, up-to-date and critical reviews of selected topics within the sciences of ecology and conservation biology, both botanical and zoological; both pure and applied. These books are aimed primarily at researchers and students, as well ecologists, conservationists, and teachers. This particular book is definitely written in an approachable manner to advanced mycophiles and naturalists who want a comprehensive review of a broad topic, and for which there really is no other one-stop shop for information on pretty much all fungi and all arthropods associated with rotting wood. There are many figures and illustrations but not really any good color images of mushroom fruitbodies, so this would not be a selling point. For the information content alone, the book is well worth it for those in the above target groups of readers. For researchers and students involved with forest tree pathology or involved with xylophagous arthropods or saproxylic fungi, this book is essential reading.

— Review by Britt Bunyard
— Originally published in Fungi