A short note on the significance of leaf litter
It has been said many times before; a leaf litter layer in a forest reduces erosion by softening the force of tropical rains, reduces water losses due to evaporation and lowers the temperature around roots in deciduous forests. The leaf litter provides food for earthworms which keep the soil aerated and more porous, of benefit to root growth. In addition, the leaf litter is the home of many interesting critters.
One may argue that annual burning would reduce fuel accumulation, preventing dangerous fire storms near cities. That might be true for some areas of the world with short or unreliable rainy seasons and absence of termites, but the experiment has been done at a large scale in Chiang Mai, where the eastern side of the Doi Suthep mountain has been spared from fires for many years, largely thanks to determined lobbying from the Chiang Mai University. As everyone in town can notice, the mountain flourishes and there have not been any fire storms. The fuel is kept at a naturally moderate level by termites and to some extent by fungi.
In a man-made woodland or parkland one could consider increasing the volume of the leaf litter during the initial years when the trees are too young to produce leaves in abundance. We do so at Dokmai Garden, and as a result we enjoy copious amounts of delicious mushrooms, and it has also changed the behaviour of our hens. Previously they would lay their eggs on top of arbours or in the space between tree trunks. With the generous leaf litter, they lay their eggs on the ground. Domesticated chicken is the same species as the wild red jungle fowl (Gallus gallus), and they are adapted to searching food in the leaf litter (reducing the number of scorpions, snakes, snails, slugs and centipedes) and apparently also to roost there.
In a national park management plan, it should be emphasized that annual man-made fires can not be tolerated, as they will kill seedlings and reduce the biodiversity significantly. Rotating pockets of natural fires many years apart enhances biodiversity by regeneration, but annual fires of vast tracts prevents restoration of the devastated Southeast Asian forests.
A Dokmai Garden scenery from 08.00 this morning.
Text & Photo: Eric Danell