, Volume 10, Issue 3, pp 143-159

Longterm response of disturbance landscapes to human intervention and global change

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Abstract

The structure of landscapes subject to patch-forming catastrophic disturbances, or “disturbance landscapes”, is controlled by the characteristics of the disturbance regime, including the distribution of disturbance sizes and intervals, and the rotation time. The primary landscape structure in disturbance landscapes is the structure of the mosaic of disturbance patches, which can be described by indices such as patch size and shape.

The purpose of this research was to use a geographical information system-based spatial model (DISPATCH) to simulate the effects of the initial density of patches on the rate of response to alteration of a disturbance regime, the effects of global warming and cooling, and the effects of fragmentation and restoration, on the structure of a generalized temperate-zone forested disturbance landscape over a period of 400 yr.

The simulations suggest that landscapes require 1/2 to 2 rotations of a new disturbance regime to adjust to that regime regardless of the size and interval distributions. Thus alterations that shorten rotations, as would be the case if global warming increases fire sizes and decreases fire intervals, produce a more rapid response than do alterations that lengthen rotations, such as cooling and fire suppression. Landscape with long rotations may be in perpetual disequilibrium with their disturbance regimes due to a mismatch between their adjustment rate and the rate of climatic change. Landscapes with similar rotation times may have different structures, because size and interval distributions independently affect landscape structure. The response of disturbance landscapes to changing disturbance regimes is governed by both the number and size of patch births.