The past and future of modeling forest dynamics: from growth and yield curves to forest landscape models

Stephen R. Shifley, Hong S. He, Heike Lischke, Wen J. Wang, Wenchi Jin, Eric J. Gustafson, Jonathan R. Thompson, Frank R. Thompson, William D. Dijak, Jian Yang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

95 Scopus citations


Context: Quantitative models of forest dynamics have followed a progression toward methods with increased detail, complexity, and spatial extent. Objectives: We highlight milestones in the development of forest dynamics models and identify future research and application opportunities. Methods: We reviewed milestones in the evolution of forest dynamics models from the 1930s to the present with emphasis on forest growth and yield models and forest landscape models We combined past trends with emerging issues to identify future needs. Results: Historically, capacity to model forest dynamics at tree, stand, and landscape scales was constrained by available data for model calibration and validation; computing capacity; model applicability to real-world problems; and ability to integrate biological, social, and economic drivers of change. As computing and data resources improved, a new class of spatially explicit forest landscape models emerged. Conclusions: We are at a point of great opportunity in development and application of forest dynamics models. Past limitations in computing capacity and in data suitable for model calibration or evaluation are becoming less restrictive. Forest landscape models, in particular, are ready to transition to a central role supporting forest management, planning, and policy decisions. Recommendations: Transitioning forest landscape models to a central role in applied decision making will require greater attention to evaluating performance; building application support staffs; expanding the included drivers of change, and incorporating metrics for social and economic inputs and outputs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1307-1325
Number of pages19
JournalLandscape Ecology
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 1 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017, Springer Science+Business Media B.V. (outside the USA).


  • Ecosystem services
  • Forest Vegetation Simulator
  • Gap model
  • Individual-tree model
  • Model validation
  • Process model
  • TreeMig

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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