Modeling the Dynamics of Snags. Academic Article uri icon


  • Many wildlife species required standing dead trees (i.e., snags) as part of their habitat. Therefore, the ability to predict future density, distribution, and condition of snags can assist resource managers in making land-use decisions. Here we present methods for modeling the dynamics of snags using data from a 10-yr study on the rates of decay, falling, and recruitment of snags on burned and unburned plots in the Sierra Nevada, California. Snags (all species) in advanced stages of decay usually fell within 5 yr, and snags created by fire decayed rapidly and fell quicker (within 10 yr) than those on unburned plots. Pine (Pinus spp.) snags decayed more rapidly than fir (Abies spp.). Although there was an overall net increase in snag density on unburned plots, most of this increase was in the smaller (>13-38 cm diameter at breast height [dbh]) size classes; there was a net decrease in the larger (>38 cm dbh) snags preferred by many birds for nesting and feeding. Overall, snags remained standing the longest that were larger in diameter, shorter in height, less decayed, fir rather than pine, and lacking tops. A Leslie matrix model of snag dynamics predicted changes in snag decay and density only when adjusted for the specific environmental factors(s) causing initial tree mortality. Many snags are created by episodic events, such as fire, disease, drought, and insects. Models of snag dynamics must include the species and condition of trees becoming snags, as well as the factor(s) causing the tree to die. Forest managers must consider this episodic creation of snags when developing snag-management guidelines, and when planning tree-salvage programs based on short-term inventories.

published proceedings

  • Ecol Appl

altmetric score

  • 3

author list (cited authors)

  • Morrison, M. L., & Raphael, M. G.

citation count

  • 111

complete list of authors

  • Morrison, Michael L||Raphael, Martin G

publication date

  • May 1993