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

81 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

Funding Information:
We thank David Mladenoff and two anonymous reviewers for insightful comments that were a great help in improving earlier versions of this manuscript. We, along with other scientists and forest managers, are deeply indebted to pioneers in forest tree, stand, and landscape modelling over the past eight decades. There are many, but John Moser, Alan Ek, Al Stage, Rolfe Leary, Bob Monserud, Nick Crookston, David Mladenoff, John Pastor, and W.M. Post have been particularly influential. We thank them for their leadership, insight, and encouragement. This research was partially supported by the U.S.D.A. Forest Service Northern Research Station, the Department of Interior USGS Northeast Climate Science Center graduate and post-doctoral fellowships, and the University of Missouri-Columbia. The contents of this paper are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the United States Government. This manuscript is submitted for publication with the understanding that the United States Government is authorized to reproduce and distribute reprints for Governmental purposes.

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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