by Regan Monnett
Areas like the trails at Nichols Arboretum and the Matthaei Botanical Gardens are perfect combinations of conservation, preservation, and visitor engagement. This means that the staff must maintain the different environments on their property to be both accessible and beneficial to the ecosystem as a whole. One interesting example of this practice is seen on the Sam Graham Trees Trail at the Matthaei Botanical Gardens. In the fall of 2021, a large tree fell during a storm, right onto the walking path below. While the staff removed the section of the tree trunk directly on the trail, they left the remainder of the tree on each side. This way, the trail is accessible to visitors, while still providing ecological benefits to the area.
When such a tree falls in the wild, it still contributes to the ecosystem. Organisms called detritivores, like fungi and different insects, find and consume the tree, and slowly break it apart. The nutrients from the tree are consumed by the detritivores or released into the soil, where they will eventually be recycled by other organisms. Downed trees and other wooden debris are also frequently used by different types of animals for shelter. Many detritivores live in decaying wood, and many small mammals and reptiles take shelter here as well.
By keeping this tree here to decompose naturally, the staff at the Botanical Gardens is letting nature take its course. Even though it might look odd, the ecosystem is benefiting from the tree in several ways. Downed trees are just one excellent example of how nothing in nature goes to waste.