Determining the size of a complete disturbance landscape: multi-scale, continental analysis of forest change

  • Brian BumaEmail author
  • Jennifer K Costanza
  • Kurt Riitters


The scale of investigation for disturbance-influenced processes plays a critical role in theoretical assumptions about stability, variance, and equilibrium, as well as conservation reserve and long-term monitoring program design. Critical consideration of scale is required for robust planning designs, especially when anticipating future disturbances whose exact locations are unknown. This research quantified disturbance proportion and pattern (as contagion) at multiple scales across North America. This pattern of scale-associated variability can guide selection of study and management extents, for example, to minimize variance (measured as standard deviation) between any landscapes within an ecoregion. We identified the proportion and pattern of forest disturbance (30 m grain size) across multiple landscape extents up to 180 km2. We explored the variance in proportion of disturbed area and the pattern of that disturbance between landscapes (within an ecoregion) as a function of the landscape extent. In many ecoregions, variance between landscapes within an ecoregion was minimal at broad landscape extents (low standard deviation). Gap-dominated regions showed the least variance, while fire-dominated showed the largest. Intensively managed ecoregions displayed unique patterns. A majority of the ecoregions showed low variance between landscapes at some scale, indicating an appropriate extent for incorporating natural regimes and unknown future disturbances was identified. The quantification of the scales of disturbance at the ecoregion level provides guidance for individuals interested in anticipating future disturbances which will occur in unknown spatial locations. Information on the extents required to incorporate disturbance patterns into planning is crucial for that process.


Disturbance Scale Extent Ecoregion Spatial statistics Heterogeneity Landscape variability North America Reserve design Contagion 



This work was partially supported by NSF Alaska EPSCoR award #OIA-1208927 and the state of Alaska. Thanks is also expressed to Hansen et al. and Google Earth Engine for supplying the data on forest disturbances. Four anonymous reviewers provided helpful feedback.

Supplementary material

10661_2017_6364_MOESM1_ESM.xlsx (695 kb)
ESM 1 (XLSX 695 kb).
10661_2017_6364_MOESM2_ESM.docx (80 kb)
ESM 2 (DOCX 79 kb).


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Natural SciencesUniversity of Alaska SoutheastJuneauUSA
  2. 2.Department of Forestry and Environmental ResourcesNorth Carolina State UniversityTriangle ParkUSA
  3. 3.Southern Research Station, USDA Forest ServiceTriangle ParkUSA

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