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“Life in the Leaf Litter”

Need another reason not to rake up all those fallen leaves? The American Museum of Natural History makes good case for leaving leaf litter alone, in their publication “Life in the Leaf Litter” written by Elizabeth A. Johnson and Kefyn M. Catley.  Published by their Center for Biodiversity & Conservation, this 27 page booklet can be downloaded on their website.

“Life in the Leaf Litter” explains the seasonal cycling in forests where fallen leaves, small twigs, seeds and other organic debris accumulate on the forest floor, creating an important layer known as leaf litter.  This layer provides food, shelter and nesting materials to a diverse array of creatures – birds use leaf litter to source nesting materials and find tasty insects to feed their young, amphibians and small mammals seek out hiding places in the leaves, some insect larvae overwinter in leaf litter, etc.

Most surprising are the vast numbers of small invertebrates, bacteria and fungi that call leaf litter “home.” Creatures like slugs, snails and millipedes feed on the leaf litter and break it down into smaller pieces.  Tiny organisms, including bacteria and fungi, then decompose the small pieces of leaf litter into soluble chemicals and minerals – nutrients that are recycled again and used as food by trees and other plants.  The decomposers themselves also serve as food for other creatures.  This “nutrient cycling” is essential to healthy woodland soils as the cycle repeats itself again and again.

“Life in the Leaf Litter” describes many of these important invertebrates and microorganisms, including spiders, harvestmen, mites, springtails, sowbugs, pseudoscorpions, water bears, and other fascinating creatures you may not have heard of.

Useful tips for conserving leaf litter are also included. And, you don’t need a forest to take this advice.  Home landscapes, especially woodland gardens, will benefit too.

From Kim Eierman at EcoBeneficial!