Muir Woods Nature Detectives



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When a Tree Falls in the Forest

How is a dead tree a part of the forest community?

A fallen tree has been decomposing on the ground in this grove of redwoods for nearly 100 years. It has become an important part of the forest for many living things. Read about the plants and animals that inhabit this part of the forest. To learn more about them click through to their descriptions in the notebook.

Surrounded by towering coastal redwoods, a fallen tree lies on the shady forest floor. On parts of the fallen tree soft, moist moss has started to grow. Delicate polypod ferns grow out of the log’s moist moss and decaying wood. On the log, a harvestman spider lurks in search of small insects to eat. A small cluster of small honey mushrooms and large disc-shaped oyster mushrooms grow from the side of the log. A banana slug eats an oyster mushroom while another searches for food, leaving a trail of sticky slime behind it. Banana slugs live under fallen trees for protection and they eat the mushrooms that grow from logs. A Giant Pacific Salamander hides in the shade under the log. In the rich soil around the rotting log grows delicate, clover-shaped redwood sorrel. A Sonoma chipmunk scampers around the forest floor in search of acorns and hazelnuts to store for later. The small golf-ball sized Pacific wren hops among the fern skirts and sings a long loud song. All over the end of a small log crawls a large mass of hundreds of shiny red Convergent ladybugs. In the leaves away from the log grows a poisonous red waxy-cap mushroom. Nearby, the large pileated woodpecker uses its pointed beak to dig insects out of dead wood. In the distance, a female black-tailed deer quietly grazes on redwood sorrel. Beyond the fallen tree a grey fox looks for small animals to hunt. High above the ground, a northern-spotted owl perches on a branch looking for prey.

Picture of the forest with the plants and animals in it.

See a zoomed in view of this picture in a new window. Or, see a panorama of this location in a new window (requires Flash).

How do the members of the forest community depend on each other? Select the forest creature below that you think fits best in each scenario.

Something is hunting a Chipmunk. It is a:

The Chipmunk and a Black-tailed Deer are eating something that lives on the fallen tree. It is:

Something is hunting a Pacific Wren. It is a:

The Pacific Wren is hopping around, eating something that lives on the fallen tree. It is:

Another Black-tailed Deer is eating something that lives on the fallen tree. It is:

Pacific Salamanders will eat:


The Banana Slug will eat these things that live on the fallen tree:

The Harvestman Spider will eat these things that live on the fallen tree:


The Pileated Woodpecker will eat these things that live on the fallen tree:


Nobody eats these things that live on or near the fallen tree: