Annals of Forest Science

, 76:78 | Cite as

Monitoring disturbance intervals in forests: a case study of increasing forest disturbance in Minnesota

  • David C. WilsonEmail author
  • Randall S. Morin
  • Lee E. Frelich
  • Alan R. Ek
Research Paper


Key Message

We develop analytical methods and explore trends in disturbance interval via systematic forest inventory observations at a bioregional scale.


Our study spans the dynamic ecotone at the intersection of southern boreal forest, mixed hardwood forest, and tall-grass prairie ecosystems in Minnesota, USA. Disturbance-related tree mortality is a major driver of demographic and successional change in this bioregion.


We aim to provide reliable disturbance estimates for forest ecology and economic research.


We develop methods applicable to any region with systematic forest inventory observations. We assess disturbances observed by the United States Department of Agriculture-Forest Service Forest Inventory and Analysis program on permanent sample plots in Minnesota, USA.


A roughly 50% reduction in disturbance interval is apparent across all forest cover types and for most disturbance categories. The largest changes are for insect damage, disease, wind events, drought, and fire.


Publicly available forest inventory data captures the frequency of disturbance events across bioregional landscapes and over time. Our methods serve to highlight rapid changes in rates of damage to standing trees within the study area.


Forest inventory Disturbance Rotation interval Field observation Trends Bioregional scale 



This research has been supported by the University of Minnesota, Department of Forest Resources, the Interagency Information Cooperative through the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, and the USDA Forest Service Northern Research Station FIA Unit. Special thanks to, and the R user community for excellent coding examples and support.


Alan Ek provided the research direction and early interpretations of disturbance observations recorded by USDA-FIA. Alan’s participation in early discussions on how to use the FIA data for disturbance analysis was critical to sorting through the methodology involved. Alan also provided substantial review and critical expertise in honing the final manuscript.

Lee Frelich provided the disturbance analysis and forest ecology expertise to couch the current research in terms of past and ongoing efforts to assess return intervals for forest disturbance. Lee’s descriptions of the study area and the relevant disturbance ecology were also very helpful in outlining the natural history of the study area and relevance of the research.

Randall Morin provided the FIA insider view of the data collected, field procedures, and past analyses using FIA data for area estimation related to disturbance. Randall also participated in several rounds of review and contributed substantially to the final wordsmithing.

David Wilson is the lead author and performed all of the scripting and analysis presented in the current paper. David wrote early drafts, provided synthesis of multiple authors’ contributions, and developed the methodology and explanations presented herein.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© INRA and Springer-Verlag France SAS, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Forest ResourcesUniversity of MinnesotaMinneapolisUSA
  2. 2.Forest Service, Forest Inventory and Analysis UnitUSDANewtown SquareUSA

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