Simulating forest resilience: a review


Aim: Simulation models are important tools for quantifying the resilience (i.e., persistence under changed environmental conditions) of forest ecosystems to global change. We synthesized the modelling literature on forest resilience, summarizing common models and applications in resilience research, and scrutinizing the implementation of important resilience mechanisms in these models. Models applied to assess resilience are highly diverse, and our goal was to assess how well they account for important resilience mechanisms identified in experimental and empirical research. Location: Global. Time period: 1994 to 2019. Major taxa studied: Trees. Methods: We reviewed the forest resilience literature using online databases, selecting 119 simulation modelling studies for further analysis. We identified a set of resilience mechanisms from the general resilience literature and analysed models for their representation of these mechanisms. Analyses were grouped by investigated drivers (resilience to what) and responses (resilience of what), as well as by the type of model being used. Results: Models used to study forest resilience varied widely, from analytical approaches to complex landscape simulators. The most commonly addressed questions were associated with resilience of forest cover to fire. Important resilience mechanisms pertaining to regeneration, soil processes, and disturbance legacies were explicitly simulated in only 34 to 46% of the model applications. Main conclusions: We found a large gap between processes identified as underpinning forest resilience in the theoretical and empirical literature, and those represented in models used to assess forest resilience. Contemporary forest models developed for other goals may be poorly suited for studying forest resilience during an era of accelerating change. Our results highlight the need for a new wave of model development to enhance understanding of and management for resilient forests.

Global Ecology and Biogeography