European Journal of Forest Research

, Volume 133, Issue 5, pp 931–939 | Cite as

Age determination of coarse woody debris with radiocarbon analysis and dendrochronological cross-dating

  • Inken KrügerEmail author
  • Jan Muhr
  • Claudia Hartl-Meier
  • Christoph Schulz
  • Werner Borken
Original Paper


To study the decay of coarse woody debris (CWD) in forest ecosystems, it is necessary to determine the time elapsed since tree death, which is difficult at advanced decay stages. Here, we compare two methods for age determination of CWD logs, dendrochronological cross-dating and radiocarbon analysis of the outermost tree ring. The methods were compared using samples from logs of European beech, Norway spruce and Sessile oak decomposing in situ at three different forest sites. For dendrochronological cross-dating, we prepared wood discs with diameters of 10–80 cm. For radiocarbon analysis, cellulose was isolated from shavings of the outermost tree rings. There was an overall good agreement between time of death determined by the two methods with median difference of 1 year. The uncertainty of age determination by the radiocarbon approach did not increase with decreasing carbon density, despite incomplete separation of chitin from the extracted cellulose. Fungal chitin has the potential to alter the radiocarbon signature of tree rings as the carbon for chitin synthesis originates from different sources. Significant correlations between year of tree death and carbon density of wood were found for beech and spruce, but not for oak due to relatively small decreases in carbon density within 50–60 years. Total residence times of CWD were calculated from these correlations and revealed 24 years for beech and 62 years for spruce. The uncertainty of total residence times results mainly from huge natural variability in carbon density of CWD rather than uncertainty in the age determination. The results suggest that both methods are suitable for age determination of CWD.


Radiocarbon Coarse woody debris CWD Dendrochronological cross-dating Cellulose extraction Time of tree death 



This work was founded by the Bavarian Ministry for Nutrition, Agriculture and Forestry. We want to thank the forest rangers of Grübel, Ludwigshain and Rohrberg for providing wood disc for the site chronologies and for enabling us to sample CWD in the unmanaged forests. Further, we want to express our gratitude to Helga Hertel-Kolb, Felix Klein and Caroline Stöhr for help in the field. We are indebted to Heike Machts and Axel Steinhof for assistance with cellulose extraction. The authors would like to thank the anonymous reviewers for their comments that helped improve the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Inken Krüger
    • 1
    Email author
  • Jan Muhr
    • 2
  • Claudia Hartl-Meier
    • 3
  • Christoph Schulz
    • 4
  • Werner Borken
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Soil Ecology, Bayreuth Center of Ecological and Environmental Research (BayCEER)University of BayreuthBayreuthGermany
  2. 2.Department of Biogeochemical ProcessesMax Plank Institute for BiogeochemistryJenaGermany
  3. 3.Faculty of ForestryUniversity of Applied Sciences Weihenstephan-TriesdorfFreisingGermany
  4. 4.Bavarian State Institute of ForestryFreisingGermany

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