Habitat value of, and social attitudes towards, dead trees in Canberra's urban forest

Alexander Pecenko, Cristopher Brack

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


    Dead trees can occur throughout an urban forest and need to be managed. Standing dead trees that have been made ‘safe’ through regular inspection and the removal of unstable and decaying material are called ‘totem trees’ by Transport Canberra and City Services in Canberra, Australia. This paper is a pilot case study of totem trees in Canberra, employing an innovative mixed-methods approach, which includes silvicultural assessment, focal sampling, ad libitum sampling, in situ observation of evidence for fauna presence, and public questionnaires. It demonstrates that totem trees have significant habitat value because they provide perching, nesting, vocalisation, habitation and feeding sites for birds and arboreal mammals, as well as habitation and food for reptiles, insects and fungi. Totem trees with greater structural complexity appear to be preferred by fauna. The questionnaire findings, from park users and nearby park residents, indicate a generally positive attitude towards totem trees, with most participants perceiving them as valuable habitat for fauna and appreciating their aesthetic appeal. This highlights an important juxtaposition of management priorities: the need to balance structural complexity with providing safe trees. The findings of this study underscore the need to maintain and enlarge the totem tree population given their significant habitat value and social functions. Freestanding, structurally complex dead trees with numerous hollows, branches and bark should be prioritised for conservation. Additionally, the raising of public awareness is recommended to address any ongoing public uncertainty regarding the safety of totem trees.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)91-104
    JournalAustralian Forestry
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 2021


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