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    Forest ecosystem dynamics emerges from nonlinear interactions between adaptive biotic agents (i.e., individual trees) and their relationship with a spatially and temporally heterogeneous abiotic environment. Understanding and predicting the dynamics resulting from these complex interactions is crucial for the sustainable stewardship of ecosystems, particularly in the context of rapidly changing environmental conditions. Here we present iLand (the individual-based forest landscape and disturbance model), a novel approach to simulating forest dynamics as an emergent property of environmental drivers, ecosystem processes and dynamic interactions across scales. Our specific objectives were (i) to describe the model, in particular its novel approach to simulate spatially explicit individual-tree competition for resources over large scales within a process-based framework of physiological resource use, and (ii) to present a suite of evaluation experiments assessing iLands ability to simulate tree growth and mortality for a wide range of forest ecosystems. Adopting an approach rooted in ecological field theory, iLand calculates a continuous field of light availability over the landscape, with every tree represented by a mechanistically derived, size- and species-dependent pattern of light interference. Within a hierarchical multi-scale framework productivity is derived at stand-level by means of a light-use efficiency approach, and downscaled to individuals via local light availability. Allocation (based on allometric ratios) and mortality (resulting from carbon starvation) are modeled at the individual-tree level, accounting for adaptive behavior of trees in response to their environment. To evaluate the model we conducted simulations over the extended environmental gradient of a longitudinal transect in Oregon, USA, and successfully compared results against independently observed productivity estimates (63.4% of variation explained) and mortality patterns in even-aged stands. This transect experiment was furthermore replicated for a different set of species and ecosystems in the Austrian Alps, documenting the robustness and generality of our approach. Model performance was also successfully evaluated for structurally and compositionally complex old-growth forests in the western Cascades of Oregon. Finally, the ability of our approach to address forest ecosystem dynamics at landscape scales was demonstrated by a computational scaling experiment. In simulating the emergence of ecosystem patterns and dynamics as a result of complex process interactions across scales our approach has the potential to contribute crucial capacities to understanding and fostering forest ecosystem resilience under changing climatic conditions.

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    • This article was written and prepared by U.S. Government employees on official time, and is therefore in the public domain.


    Seidl, Rupert; Rammer, Werner; Scheller, Robert M.; Spies, Thomas A. 2012. An individual-based process model to simulate landscape-scale forest ecosystem dynamics. Ecological Modelling. 231: 87-100.


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    Forest ecosystem dynamics, Complex adaptive systems, Individual-based modeling, Ecological field theory, Hierarchical multi-scale modeling, Forest structure and functioning

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