, Volume 1, Issue 6, pp 546–557

Ecosystem Management in the Context of Large, Infrequent Disturbances

  • Virginia H.  Dale
  • Ariel E.  Lugo
  • James A.  MacMahon
  • Steward T. A.  Pickett

DOI: 10.1007/s100219900050

Cite this article as:
Dale, V., Lugo, A., MacMahon, J. et al. Ecosystems (1998) 1: 546. doi:10.1007/s100219900050


Large, infrequent disturbances (LIDs) can have significant impacts yet seldom are included in management plans. Although this neglect may stem from relative unfamiliarity with a kind of event that rarely occurs in the experience or jurisdiction of individual managers, it may also reflect the assumption that LIDs are so large and powerful as to be beyond the ability of managers to affect. However, some LIDs can be affected by management, and for many of those that cannot be affected, the resilience or recovery of the system disrupted by the disturbance can be influenced to meet management goals. Such results can be achieved through advanced planning that allows for LIDs, whether caused by natural events, human activities, or a combination of the two. Management plans for LIDs may adopt a variety of goals, depending on the nature of the system and the nature of the anticipated disturbance regime. Managers can choose to influence (a) the system prior to the disturbance, (b) the disturbance itself, (c) the system after the disturbance, or (d) the recovery process. Prior to the disturbance, the system can be managed in ways that alter its vulnerability or change how it will respond to a disturbance. The disturbance can be managed through no action, preventive measures, or manipulations that can affect the intensity or frequency of the disturbance. Recovery efforts can focus on either managing the state of the system immediately after the disturbance or managing the ongoing process of recovery. This review of the management implications of LIDs suggests that management actions should be tailored to particular disturbance characteristics and management goals. Management actions should foster survival of residuals and spatial heterogeneity that promote the desired recovery pattern and process. Most importantly, however, management plans need to recognize LIDs and include the potential for such disturbances to occur.

Key words: disturbance; ecosystem management; land use; recovery; spatial heterogeneity; succession. 

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag New York Inc. 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  • Virginia H.  Dale
    • 1
  • Ariel E.  Lugo
    • 2
  • James A.  MacMahon
    • 3
  • Steward T. A.  Pickett
    • 4
  1. 1.Environmental Sciences Division, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, Tennessee 37831–6036 US
  2. 2.USDA Forest Service, International Institute of Tropical Forestry, Río Piedras, Puerto Rico 00928–5000 PR
  3. 3.Department of Biology, Utah State University, Logan, Utah 84322 US
  4. 4.Institute of Ecosystem Studies, Millbrook, New York 12545–0129, USA US