"Fire, Bugs, and Humans: Modeling Interacting Disturbances in Anthropogenic Landscapes"

Wednesday, April 15, 2015 - 3:30pm
Eastern Daylight Time
Research Ecologist, USDA Forest Service Northern Research Station
Webinar Location: 
134 Morrill Science Center Conference Room

Human actions strongly influence vegetation dynamics over much of the globe.  The cumulative effects of these actions interact with natural disturbances such as wildfire and insects, leading to complex disturbance behavior affecting human safety, sustainability of natural resources, and biodiversity.  In this presentation I overview my research program investigating fire and insect disturbance and their interactions with human activities shaping forest landscapes.  First, I examine how wildfire ignition patterns in northern Wisconsin are related to a combination of human activity and drought cycles, and the project the implications of anthropogenic wildfire on future wildfire risk and tree species composition in the face of logging activities, rural housing development, and climate change.  Next, I review insights from a simulation study investigating the interactions between spruce budworm disturbance and wildfire patterns in northern Minnesota.  We found fire suppression favored establishment of fir and spruce, and therefore the modern disturbance regime was dominated by insect disturbance and high-severity fire.  Our results are consistent with a series of large wildfires affecting the study area in the last decade.  Finally, I examine the reciprocal feedbacks between forest harvest patterns, forest composition, and spruce budworm outbreaks within a 2 million ha “experimental” landscape at the international border between Minnesota and Ontario, containing wilderness plus two contrasting patterns of harvesting (coarse vs. fine).  Our study is among the first to show empirically that forest management can not only influence insect damage associated with budworm outbreaks, but also the nature of the outbreaks themselves.  Collectively these studies demonstrate the value of landscape simulation models to synthesize knowledge, identify critical knowledge gaps, and suggest research that will inform the next generation of models to better understand the cumulative effects of anthropogenic activities on critical ecological processes.

Brian Sturtevant is a Landscape Ecologist with the U.S. Forest Service Northern Research Station in Rhinelander WI.  He received a BS degree from Rutgers University, a Masters in Wildlife Ecology from Utah State University, and a Doctorate in Ecology from the University of Maryland.  He conducts broad-scale investigations of forest dynamics, fire and insect disturbance processes, and their interactions in time and space.