Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

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




Publication type:

Scientific Journal (JRNL)

Primary Station(s):

Southern Research Station


Environmental Monitoring and Assessment


The scale of investigation for disturbanceinfluenced 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.


Buma, Brian; Costanza, Jennifer K; Riitters, Kurt. 2017.Determining the size of a complete disturbance landscape: multi-scale, continental analysis of forest change. Environmental Monitoring and Assessment. 189(12): 181-.


Publication Notes

  • We recommend that you also print this page and attach it to the printout of the article, to retain the full citation information.
  • This article was written and prepared by U.S. Government employees on official time, and is therefore in the public domain.