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Brian R. Sturtevant

Brian R. Sturtevant
Research Ecologist
Institute for Applied Ecosystem Studies: Theory and Application of Scaling Science in Forestry
5985 Highway K
Rhinelander, WI 54501-9128
United States
Current Research
The scientist investigates interactions among human land use and management, forest vegetation, and natural disturbance processes (principally fire and defoliating insects) across large landscapes in time and space. Under this guiding theme, the scientist develops landscape models to synthesize information across scales and scientific disciplines, and applies those models to investigate the emergent consequences of these interacting phenomena. The cumulative effects of these interactions result in persistent spatial legacies that often constrain future management options and may impact ecosystem resilience to future change.

The scientist also designs field studies to address fundamental knowledge gaps limiting the understanding of disturbance processes and effects. Some focal areas include: 1. how landscape legacies from past forest management patterns can either buffer or amplify insect outbreaks; 2. how disturbance intensity or severity (e.g., fire or insect defoliation) many be scaled up using different remote sensing platforms; 3. how fuel loading and fire intensity relates to belowground soil heating, and its consequences for the restoration of fire-prone ecosystems.

Such field study enable selective replacement of empirical model components, dependent on past observations, with process-based model components based on mechanistic understanding and theoretical underpinnings. This last objective is critical because the novel conditions anticipated within the global context of anthropogenic climate, atmospheric, biodiversity, and land cover changes suggest that the empirical relationships of the past will become increasingly unreliable in the future. Hence the overarching goal of the scientist’s research program is to advance both the state of the art in landscape disturbance and succession modeling and the field of landscape ecology as it applies to disturbance and change within forested ecosystems.
Research Interest
Emergent themes within the scientist's research program include: 
  • Restoration of temperate woodland and savanna ecosystems through effective application of fire
  • Modeling of wind-assisted insect dispersal
  • Approximating "tri-trophic" (i.e., forest, insect, natural enemy) interactions affecting outbreak dynamics in time and space within forest landscape models
  • Addressing the human dimensions of uncertainty affecting the possible future conditions of forested landscapes using "strategic foresight" and "participatory modeling" techniques.
Why This Research Is Important
Forests provide essential ecosystem services across the globe including carbon storage, water quality, climate regulation, wildlife habitat, and biodiversity. Yet forests are increasingly stressed by a range of agents that are threatening the resilience of these systems and the ecosystem services they provide. Forest landscape models synthesize what is known and unknown regarding drivers and processes underlying forest dynamics through time and space, and can enable projections of potential futures in forested landscapes that might be realized. Still, forest disturbance interactions in time and space are complex, and require both conceptual and emprical advances to ensure their results are grounded in good science. Fortunately, data collection technology (e.g., remote sensing, data loggers, molecular techniques), analytical tools, and computational power continue to increase, facillitating more effective study and modelling of such complexity. Such research will enable the development of next-generation landscape models that, ultimately, provide decision support for land managers based on the best available science.
  • University of Maryland at College Park, Ph.D., Ecology, 2001
  • Utah State University, M.S., Wildlife Ecology, 1996
  • Rutgers University, B.S., Natural Resources Management, 1992
Professional Experience
  • Research Ecologist,  Northern Research Station, Rhinelander, WI,  2001 - Current
Professional Organizations
  • Board Member,  Lake States Fire Science Consortium,  2017 - Current
  • Member,  Association for Fire Ecology,  2007 - Current
  • Board Member,  LANDIS-II Foundation,  2006 - Current
  • International Association for Landscape Ecology (U.S. Chapter),  1997 - Current
  • Member,  Ecological Society of America,  1996 - Current
Awards & Recognition
  • Wings across the Americas Conservation Award - Habitat Conservation Partnership: USDA Forest Service, 2017
    Co-author of Niemi et al. 2016. Analysis of long-term forest bird monitoring data from national forests of the western Great Lakes Region. Gen. Tech. Rep. NRS-159.
  • Partners in Flight Investigations Award: North American Bird Conservation Initiative., 2017
    Co-author of Niemi et al. 2016. Analysis of long-term forest bird monitoring data from national forests of the western Great Lakes Region. Gen. Tech. Rep. NRS-159.
  • Senior Research Award: Association of Southeastern Biologists, 2002
    Co-recipient with Steven Seagle: Seagle, S.W. and Sturtevant, B.R. 2005. Forest productivity predicts invertebrate biomass and Ovenbird (Seiurus aurocapillus) reproduction in Appalachian landscapes. Ecology 86: 1531-1539.
Featured Publications
Other Publications
Citations of Non-Forest Service Publications
  • Sturtevant, B.R., J.R. Miesel, M.B. Dickinson, R.K. Kolka, C.C. Kern, D.M. Donner, K.M. Quigley, and M.M. Bushman. 2020. Manipulating soil heating patterns to optimize barrens restoration (JFSP Project ID: 15-1-05-13). Final Report to the Joint Fire Science Program, September, 2020.
Research Highlights

Modeling wolf-moose forest interactions at Isle Royale National Park

Year: 2017
The loss of top predators may have unintended consequences for forest composition and function. Forest Service scientists partnered with the U.S. Geologic Survey and National Park Service to investigate the effects of alternative wolf predation scenarios on the moose and forest dynamics at Isle Roya...

Scientists model the effects of restoring the American chestnut tree to the eastern U.S. landscape

Year: 2017
The American chestnut tree is fast growing, somewhat tolerant of shade, and its wood is resistant to decay. The chestnut tree might be capable of significantly increasing carbon storage if it could be restored to its former dominance across the eastern U.S., but is it capable of reasserting its domi...

Scaling Up Ecosystem Impacts of the Pagami Creek Fire in Northern Minnesota

Year: 2016
Quantifying fire severity is critical to understanding the ecosystem impacts of wildfire. Forest Service research demonstrates the magnitude of ecosystem impacts from large wildfires, the challenges of relating those impacts to repeatable and scalable fire severity indices, and the application of re...

Changes in Host Abundance Following Harvesting Desynchronize Forest Insect Pest Outbreaks

Year: 2015
A Forest Service scientist led an international team to investigate how different historic forest management practices have affected spruce budworm outbreaks in a large “experimental landscape” spanning the U.S.-Canadian border. Their results show the strongest evidence to date that human-mediated ...

Simulation Modeling of Forest Landscape Disturbances

Year: 2015
Simulation models of landscape disturbances have proliferated and matured. A Forest Service scientist co-edited the book “Simulation Modeling of Forest Landscape Disturbances” that represents a synthesis of the current state of knowledge in forest landscape disturbance models across a wide variety o...

Bird Monitoring in the Western Great Lakes National Forests Shows Stabilized Breeding Bird Populations

Year: 2014
The results from 20 years of forest bird monitoring in four national forests in Minnesota and Wisconsin show positive trends in breeding bird population stability. The new report by Forest Service scientists and partners represents the most comprehensive volume of quantitative information ever compi...

Scientists Predict Survivability Factors for Northern Forests Given Elevated CO2 and Ozone Levels

Year: 2013
The researchers scaled up a high-profile 11-year ecosystem experiment called Aspen-FACE to assess how elevated carbon dioxide and ozone levels might impact real forests at the landscape scale over the course of many future decades. They determined that there will be winners and losers among species ...

Spruce Budworm Effects on Fire Risk and Vegetation in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness

Year: 2012
Insect-killed trees do not necessarily increase fire risk