Spatial modelling of succession-disturbance dynamics in forest ecosystems: Concepts and examples

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58 Citations (Scopus)


Over the last few decades it has become increasingly obvious that disturbance, whether natural or anthropogenic in origin, is ubiquitous in ecosystems. Disturbance-related processes are now considered to be important determinants of the composition, structure and function of ecological systems. However, because disturbance and succession processes occur across a wide range of spatio-temporal scales their empirical investigation is difficult. To counter these difficulties much use has been made of spatial modelling to explore the response of ecological systems to disturbance(s) occurring at spatial scales from the individual to the landscape and above, and temporal scales from minutes to centuries. Here we consider such models by contrasting two alternative motivations for their development and use: prediction and exploration, with a focus on forested ecosysterns. We consider the two approaches to be complementary rather than competing. Predictive modelling aims to combine knowledge (understanding and data) with the goal of predicting system dynamics; conversely, exploratory models focus on developing understanding in systems where uncertainty is high. Examples of exploratory modelling include model-based explorations of generic issues of criticality in ecological systems, whereas predictive models tend to be more heavily data-driven (e.g. species distribution models). By considering predictive and exploratory modelling alongside each other, we aim to illustrate the range of methods used to model succession and disturbance dynamics and the challenges involved in the model-building and evaluation processes in this arena. (c) 2007 Rubel Foundation, ETH Zurich. Published by Elsevier GmbH. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)191-210
Number of pages20
Issue number3-4
Publication statusPublished - 6 Mar 2008


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