Compartmentalization of decay in trees
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Compartmentalization Of Decay In Trees (CODIT) is a concept created by Dr. Alex Shigo after years of studying tree decay patterns. Though disputed upon its introduction in the late 1970s, the concept is now widely accepted and can be found in many arboriculture textbooks.
In keeping with the theory of abiogenesis, in which living things can develop from non-living things, scientists traditionally believed that tree decay led to fungal growth. With the advent of germ theory, however, German forester Robert Hartig in the early 20th century theorized the opposite was the case, and developed a new model for tree decay: when trees are wounded, fungi infect the wounds, and the result is decayed wood. Over time, the research of Shigo and others helped to expand this theory, leading to the modern concept of tree decay: when trees are wounded, many organisms, not just fungi, infect the wood at different times and in different ways; trees respond to these infections with both chemical and physical changes; discolored and decayed wood results, but is limited by compartmentalization.
According to CODIT, when a tree is wounded cells undergo changes to form "walls" around the wound, slowing or preventing the spread of disease and decay to the rest of the tree.
- Wall 1. The first wall is formed by plugging up normally porous vascular tissue above and below the wound. This tissue runs up and down the length of the stem, so plugging it slows the vertical spread of decay. Tissues are plugged in various ways, such as with tylosis. This wall is the weakest.
- Wall 2. The second wall is formed by the cells of the growth ring interior to the wound, thus slowing the inward spread of decay. This wall is the second weakest, and is continuous except where intersected by ray cells (see next section).
- Wall 3. The third wall is formed by ray cells, which are groups of cells oriented perpendicularly to the stem axis, dividing the stem into sections not entirely unlike the slices of a pie. These groups of cells are not continuous and vary in length, height and thickness, forming a maze-like barrier to lateral growth of decay. After wounding, some ray cells are also altered chemically, becoming poisonous to some microorganisms. This is the strongest wall at the time of wounding, prior to the growth of the fourth wall.
- Wall 4. The fourth wall is created by new growth on the exterior of the tree, isolating tissue present at the time of infection from that which will grow after. This is the strongest wall, and often the only one which will completely halt the spread of infection. When only the fourth wall remains intact, the result is something most people have seen walking through the woods or in a park: a living tree with a completely rotted-out interior. In such cases, all the tissue present at the time of injury has become infected, but new healthy tissue has been allowed to continue to grow outside of the fourth wall.
By increasing understanding of how trees respond to decay, CODIT has had many applications. For example, arborists are frequently called upon to analyze the danger posed to people or property by a damaged or decaying tree. By knowing how decay is likely to spread, such hazard tree analyses may be more accurate, thereby preventing unnecessary tree removal, property damage, or injury. For another example, in the production of maple syrup holes are drilled into a tree's vascular tissues, which necessarily damages the tree. CODIT has helped farmers to better understand the effects of different tapping techniques and accordingly to change their methods to minimize damage and maximize production.
Work done by Gilman et al. at the University of Florida shows that a wound's proximity to leaf mass greatly influences compartmentalization as well as wound closure.
- Except for the introduction and sections with specific citations, most of this article is based on information from USDA Forest Service Agriculture Information Bulletin No. 419 (April 1979), "Tree Decay: An Expanded Concept" by Alex Shigo.
- "Minimizing Wounding/Discoloration in Northern Hardwood Stands", Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, retrieved September 18, 2006