Modelling natural disturbances in forest ecosystems: a review

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article


Natural disturbances play a key role in ecosystem dynamics and are important factors for sustainable forest ecosystem management. Quantitative models are frequently employed to tackle the complexities associated with disturbance processes. Here we review the wide variety of approaches to modelling natural disturbances in forest ecosystems, addressing the full spectrum of disturbance modelling from single events to integrated disturbance regimes. We applied a general, process-based framework founded in disturbance ecology to analyze modelling approaches for drought, wind, forest fires, insect pests and ungulate browsing. Modelling approaches were reviewed by disturbance agent and mechanism, and a set of general disturbance modelling concepts was deduced. We found that although the number of disturbance modelling approaches emerging over the last 15 years has increased strongly, statistical concepts for descriptive modelling are still largely prevalent over mechanistic concepts for explanatory and predictive applications. Yet, considering the increasing importance of disturbances for forest dynamics and ecosystem stewardship under anthropogenic climate change, the latter concepts are crucial tool for understanding and coping with change in forest ecosystems. Current challenges for disturbance modelling in forest ecosystems are thus (i) to overcome remaining limits in process understanding, (ii) to further a mechanistic foundation in disturbance modelling, (iii) to integrate multiple disturbance processes in dynamic ecosystem models for decision support in forest management, and (iv) to bring together scaling capabilities across several levels of organization with a representation of system complexity that captures the emergent behaviour of disturbance regimes. (C) 2010 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.


  • Rupert Seidl
  • Paulo M. Fernandes
  • Teresa F. Fonseca
  • Francois Gillet
  • Anna Maria Jönsson
  • Katarina Merganicova
  • Sigrid Netherer
  • Alexander Arpaci
  • Jean-Daniel Bontemps
  • Harald Bugmann
  • Jose Ramon Gonzalez-Olabarria
  • Petra Lasch
  • Celine Meredieu
  • Francisco Moreira
  • Mart-Jan Schelhaas
  • Frits Mohren
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Physical Geography


  • Disturbance modelling, Wildfire, Wind storm, Drought, Insect herbivory, Browsing
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)903-924
JournalEcological Modelling
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2011
Publication categoryResearch