Center For Forest Disturbance Science (SRS RWU 4156)

The Center for Forest Disturbance Science is a research project of the US Forest Service Southern Research Station focused on the study of disturbance processes across scales and their risk of occurrence in order to develop innovative management strategies for reducing vulnerability of ecosystems to degradation.

News and Events

Predicting Fire Behavior with New 3D Fuel Models

Two researchers collecting plants in the woods

Land managers have a new tool in their firefighting arsenals that models forest fuels in three dimensions. These 3D fuel models developed by the USDA Forest Service have the potential to make firefighting and the management of controlled burns safer and less costly while helping to protect valuable natural resources.

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Weather Conditions Inform Timing of Prescribed Fire

These well developed smoke plumes from a prescribed fire in the southeastern U.S. are similar to those needed for FASMEE. Photo by Yongqiang Liu, USFS.

Prescribed fires generate smoke, which can harm human health – especially in areas where humans and forests are close together. “Weather conditions are critical for prescribed fire, especially the effects of wind and humidity on smoke plume formation,” says Yongqiang Liu, USDA Forest Service research meteorologist.

Liu is the lead author of a modeling study that sought to identify specific weather conditions that allow formation of a large, well developed smoke plume that travel long distances during and after prescribed burning. This study is part of a national project called FASMEE, the Fire and Smoke Model Evaluation Experiment.

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Where to Grow Woody Bioenergy Crops?

The study identifies opportunity zones for woody bioenergy crops. Photo by David Stephens, courtesy of

Demand for bioenergy is expected to grow – as much as 10 times larger than present. Woody crops such as poplar or loblolly pine have the potential to fuel this growth.

But where should such crops be planted? How to minimize transportation costs? Where are the opportunity zones? Where are the risks?

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2018 ESRI Award for Best Scientific Paper in Geographic Information Systems

Marcus Williams

Marcus Williams, research meteorologist, and Christie Hawley, forest technician, with the Center For Forest Disturbance Science and their partners with the University of Georgia have been recognized as the first place recipients of the 2018 ESRI Award for Best Scientific Paper in Geographic Information Systems by the Imaging and Geospatial Information Society. This study, Mapping the Spatio-Temporal Evolution of Irrigation in the Coastal Plain of Georgia, USA, maps the spatial and temporal evolution of acres irrigated in the coastal plain of Georgia over a 38 year period and at a sub-county scale.

Don’t Forget the Soil Fauna

Proturans are tiny (under 2 mm long) invertebrates that inhabit the soil.

When U.S. Forest Service Southern Research Station research ecologist Mac Callaham and post-doctoral researcher David Coyle, D.B. Warnell School of Forest Resources, were teaching a class together at the University of Georgia, they decided to involve their students in writing a manuscript. The paper aimed to call attention to a subject that in recent years has received too little love from the scientific community: soil fauna and how various kinds of environmental disturbances affected soil invertebrates.

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Drier Weather, Drier Fuels

Person setting a prescribed fire

Dry weather – and huge wildfires – are common. “Climate change would modify fuel moisture and wildland fires dramatically across the United States,” says Yongqiang Liu. Liu is a U.S. Forest Service research meteorologist who recently investigated climate impacts on fuel moisture. His study was published in the journal Ecohydrology.

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Bumblebees and Blueberries

The common Eastern bumblebee is one of 46 native bumblebee species in the U.S. Photo by Sam Droege, USGS.

Flowering plants and pollinators depend on each other. It’s a global truism, and it’s true on a 440 acre blueberry farm in northern Florida.

“Bumblebees are extremely efficient pollinators,” says U.S. Forest Service research ecologist Joseph O’Brien. “In the time it takes a honeybee to pollinate a single blueberry flower, a bumblebee can pollinate as many as six.”

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Spring Break Fire Training

Students and fire crew head into the woods at the Savannah River Site. Photo courtesy of Savannah River Ecology Laboratory.

Setting a forest on fire is not what you would call a typical a spring break activity. Sixteen graduate and undergraduate students from the University of Georgia (UGA) did just that during a course in wildland fire science at Savannah River Ecology Lab at the Savannah River Site in Georgia.

The course, Wildland Fire, is the first of its kind at UGA and was developed and taught by U.S. Forest Service SRS research ecologist Joe O’Brien and forester Ben Hornsby, along with UGA Warnell School of Forestry faculty Doug Aubrey.

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Oaks, an Unrecognized Ally in Longleaf Pine Restoration

The shade that midstory oaks provide can alleviate water stress and facilitate longleaf pine seedling survival. Photo by Louise Loudermilk, USFS.

Longleaf pine ecosystems are among the most threatened in the U.S., and managers across the southeast are prioritizing longleaf restoration. The conventional approach calls for removing hardwood trees such as oak.

“Hardwood reduction techniques are commonly deemed necessary for ecological restoration of longleaf pine ecosystems,” says U.S. Forest Service research ecologist Louise Loudermilk. “Hardwoods are presumed competitors with longleaf pine seedlings.”

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Center for Forest Disturbance Science (SRS RWU 4156)

University of Georgia
Forestry Sciences Laboratory
320 Green Street
Athens, GA 30602

Clemson University
233 Lehotsky Hall
Clemson, SC 29634