Coarse woody debris (CWD; i.e. downed limbs and boles) serves numerous ecosystem functions, which vary according to the degree of decay. CWD decay is often described using five categories based on readily observed physical characteristics ranging from freshly fallen (Class I) to advanced decay with little structural integrity (Class V). Though useful in categorizing downed wood in a forest, these categories do not necessarily provide information about time since death or the decay process. Dendrochronology can be used to assign death dates to CWD and begin to provide a temporal description of the decay process. We used standard dendrochronological techniques to determine the death dates of 94 CWD samples from five common hardwood taxa in southern Indiana. Across taxa, the time since death of Class I (1.4 ± 1.7 years; mean ± SD; least decayed class) was significantly shorter than Class II (5.2 ± 3.6 years), which was shorter than the more decayed classes (Class III: 11.5 ± 4.9, and Class IV: 11.2 ± 5.6 years). Within this general trend, time since death within a decay class varied greatly among taxa. Combining dendrochronology techniques with visual decay characteristics can improve our understanding of CWD's role and provide a more precise timeline for biomass and nutrient turnover within forested systems.
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