- The distribution pattern and extent of decay documented in this study was species-dependant and can be aggravated by arboticultural practices.
- Decayed wood is not correlated with tree vitality in U. procera and may occur even in visually healthy standing trees within the genera.
- The standing volume of U. procera trees with DBH ≥ 40 cm needs to be discounted by a factor of 13% due to internal decayed wood regardless of the species vitality index.
- Calculations of stored carbon by urban trees may need to be discounted by a species-decay factor rather than a standard factor that account only for differences in biomass yield between natural and urban trees.
Decayed wood is a common issue in urban trees that deteriorates tree vitality over time, yet its effect on biomass yield therefore stored carbon has been overlooked. We mapped the occurrence and calculated the extent of decayed wood in standing Ulmus procera, Platanus × acerifolia and Corymbia maculata trees. The main stem of 43 trees was measured every metre from the ground to the top by two skilled arborists. All trees were micro-drilled in two to four axes at three points along the stem (0.3 m, 1.3 m, 2.3 m), and at the tree’s live crown. A total of 300 drilling profiles were assessed for decay. Simple linear regression analysis tested the correlation of decayed wood (cm2) against a vitality index and stem DBH. Decay was more frequent and extensive in U. procera, than P. acerifolia and least in C. maculata. Decay was found to be distributed in three different ways in the three different genera. For U. procera, decay did appear to be distributed as a column from the base to the live crown; whereas, decay was distributed as a cone-shape in P. acerifolia and was less likely to be located beyond 2.3 m. In C. maculata decay was distributed as pockets of variable shape and size. The vitality index showed a weak but not significant correlation with the proportion of decayed wood for P. acerifolia and C. maculata but not for U. procera. However, in U. procera, a strong and significant relationship was found between DBH and stem volume loss (R2 = 0.8006, P = 0.0046, n = 15). The actual volume loss ranged from 0.17 to 0.75 m3, equivalent to 5%–25% of the stem volume. The carbon loss due to decayed wood for all species ranged between 69–110 kg per tree. Based on model’s calculation, the stem volume of U. procera trees with DBH ≥ 40 cm needs to be discounted by a factor of 13% due to decayed wood regardless of the vitality index. Decayed wood reduces significantly the tree’s standing volume and needs to be considered to better assess the carbon storage potential of urban forests.