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Nurse Log Study

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Nurse Log Study

Dead trees play an important role in the forest. By the time an old tree dies, it has usually been invaded by insects and fungi, pounded by woodpeckers and escalated by birds and mammals for nest holes. When it finally falls to the forest floor, it has lived a long, productive life. Yet, even then, a rotting log or stump provides a soft, fertile place for seeds to root and grow into plants and trees.  Like a sponge, rotting logs absorb water in heavy rain and hold moisture during droughts. Lying on the moist ground, beetles, worms, fungi and microorganisms invade them and begin to loosen up their wood. Moss blankets their surface and ferns and mushrooms take root. Animals dig under and inside them to make burrows. A squirrel, breaking apart a pine cone for its seeds perches up top to watch for predators. It drops a seed into the moss and next spring a baby tree may sprout there. This is why rotting logs are often called “nurse logs.” They nurse new life along with their nutrients.

Nurse Log Study Instructions:
1. Have students do the Nurse Log Study Practice Sheet. Explain that this shows the kinds of things they will be looking for when they do their own nurse log study.

2. In the schoolyard, or a local forested park, have students look for fallen logs that have started to soften and grow moss. These are nurse logs.

Ask them to look closely and find:
a) where animals may have fed on cones and left seeds.
b) moss, mushrooms or fungus growing (and breaking down the wood).
c) animal holes or signs of insects, salamanders or frogs.
d) any new seedlings growing.

3. Have them use the Nurse Log Study Data Sheet to record what they see and draw a diagram of their nurse log.

4. Have students share the different things they found and talk about how their nurse log is helping the forest ecosystem.

Nurse Log Study
Nurse Log Study
Nurse Log Study

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