Spatio-temporal development of forests – current trends in field methods and models


  • Georg Gratzer,

  • Charles Canham,

  • Ulf Dieckmann,

  • Anton Fischer,

  • Yoh Iwasa,

  • Richard Law,

  • Manfred J. Lexer,

  • Holger Sandmann,

  • Thomas A. Spies,

  • Bernhard E. Splechtna,

  • Jerzy Szwagrzyk

G. Gratzer and B. E. Splechtna, Institute of Forest Ecology, Dept of Forest and Soil Sciences, BOKU-Univ. of Natural Resources and Applied Life Sciences, Peter-Jordan-Strasse 82, AT-1190 Vienna, Austria ( -C. Canham, Institute of Ecosystem Studies, Millbrook, USA. -U. Dieckmann, Adaptive Dynamics Network, Int. Inst. for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), Laxenburg, Austria. -A. Fischer, Geobotany, Dept of Ecology, Center of Life and Food Sciences, Technische Univ. München, Germany. -Y. Iwasa, Dept of Biology, Faculty of Science, Kyushu Univ., Fukuoka, Japan. -R. Law, Dept of Biology, Univ. of York, UK. -M. Lexer, Inst. of Silviculture, BOKU-Univ. of Natural Resources and Applied Life Sciences, Vienna, Austria. -H. Sandmann, School of Resource and Environmental Management, Simon Fraser Univ., Burnaby, Canada. -T. A. Spies, USDA Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station, Corvallis, Oregon, USA. -J. Szwagrzyk, Dept of Forest Botany and Nature Conservation, Agricultural Univ., Krakow, Poland


We present a critical review of current trends in research of spatio-temporal development of forests. The paper addresses (1) field methods for the development of spatially-explicit models of forest dynamics and their integration in models of forest dynamics, (2) strengths and limitations of traditional patch models versus spatially-explicit, individual-based models, and (3) the potential for moment-based methods in the analysis of forest dynamics. These topics are discussed with reference to their potential for solving open questions in the studies of forest dynamics. The study of spatio-temporal processes provides a link between pattern and process in plant communities, and plays a crucial role in understanding ecosystem dynamics. In the last decade, the development of spatially-explicit, individual-based models shifted the focus of forest dynamics modelling from the dynamics of discrete patches to the interactions among individual organisms, thus encapsulating the theory of “neighbourhood” dynamics. In turn, the stochastic properties and the complexity of spatially-explicit, individual-based models gave rise to the development of a new suite of so-called moment-based models. These new models describe the dynamics of individuals and of pairs of individuals in terms of their densities, thus directly capturing second-order information on spatial structure. So far, this approach has not been applied to forests; we indicate extensions needed for such applications. Moment-based models may be an important complement to spatially explicit individual-based models in developing a general spatial theory of forest dynamics. However, both kinds of models currently focus on fine scales, whereas a critical issue in forest dynamics is to understand the interaction of fine-scale processes with coarser-scale disturbances. To obtain a more complete picture of forest dynamics, the relevant links and interactions between fine-, intermediate-, and coarse-scale processes ought to be identified. Intensive links between modelling work and field studies designed across different scales are a promising means to create a new perspective on forest dynamics.