Managing for Natural Disturbances in Central Hardwood Forests

Science synthesis for managers

12.15.USE.Book coverA new book edited by U.S. Forest Service researcher Katie Greenberg and Western Carolina University professor Beverly Collins offers detailed science-based information about the history of natural disturbances in the Central Hardwood Region of the U.S., and provides insight for managers and ecologists on managing the area’s forests.

Published by Springer, Natural Disturbances and Historic Range of Variation: Type, Frequency, Severity, and Post-disturbance Structure in Central Hardwood Forests USA focuses on a region that stretches across 10 eastern states, from the New England coast west to parts of Missouri and Arkansas. The book explores how natural disturbances have influenced the structure and composition of the region’s upland hardwood forests historically, and what that means for today’s management.

“The idea for this book was partially in response to a 2012 planning rule that requires national forests to be managed to sustain ‘ecological integrity’ within the ‘natural range of variation’ of natural disturbances and forest structure,” said Greenberg. “This brought forward questions about how to define historic range of variation and whether natural disturbance regimes should be the primary guide to forest management on national forests and other public lands.”

Recognizing the need for syntheses of information about historic range of variation and natural disturbance types, the editors and chapter authors held a symposium at the 2014 Association of Southeastern Biologists conference, where subject experts presented original scientific research and synthesized knowledge that later formed the chapters of the new book.

Greenberg, research ecologist with the Forest Service Southern Research Station Upland Hardwoods Ecology and Management research unit, as well as other Southern Research Station scientists, university faculty, and natural resource managers contributed chapters to the book, which include discussions on:

  • the historic distribution, scale, and frequency of different natural disturbances;
  • differences in effects from gradual disturbances that occur over a long period of time across a broad landscape, and abrupt or localized events such as tornadoes;
  • the influence of topography on the impact of disturbances;
  • alteration of disturbance outcomes from the interaction of biotic agents (insects, diseases) and abiotic factors (weather events, temperature, drought, and soil);
  • possible effects of climate change on disturbance regimes and the structure of the region’s upland hardwood forests;
  • implications for forest management.

Chapters by Forest Service authors are available in full text from the SRS publications database:

Chapter I: Introduction to Natural Disturbances and Historic Range of Variation

Chapter 3: Oak Decline in Central Hardwood Forests

Chapter 4: Southern Pine Beetles in Central Hardwood Forests

Chapter 12: The Historic Role of Humans and Other Keystone Species in Shaping Central Hardwood Forests for Disturbance-Dependent Wildlife

Natural Disturbances and Historic Range of Variation is available for purchase from Springer.

For more information, email Katie Greenberg at

Natural Disturbances and Historic Range of Variation is Volume 32 of the Managing Forest Ecosystems series published by Springer. Katie Greenberg and Beverly Collins, along with Frank R. Thompson, edited Volume 21, Sustaining Young Forest Communities: Ecology and Management of Early Successional Habitats in the Central Hardwood Region, USA, published in 2012.

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