Ecology and Evolution (May 2021)

Tackling unresolved questions in forest ecology: The past and future role of simulation models

  • Isabelle Maréchaux,
  • Fanny Langerwisch,
  • Andreas Huth,
  • Harald Bugmann,
  • Xavier Morin,
  • Christopher P.O. Reyer,
  • Rupert Seidl,
  • Alessio Collalti,
  • Mateus Dantas de Paula,
  • Rico Fischer,
  • Martin Gutsch,
  • Manfred J. Lexer,
  • Heike Lischke,
  • Anja Rammig,
  • Edna Rödig,
  • Boris Sakschewski,
  • Franziska Taubert,
  • Kirsten Thonicke,
  • Giorgio Vacchiano,
  • Friedrich J. Bohn

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 11, no. 9
pp. 3746 – 3770


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Abstract Understanding the processes that shape forest functioning, structure, and diversity remains challenging, although data on forest systems are being collected at a rapid pace and across scales. Forest models have a long history in bridging data with ecological knowledge and can simulate forest dynamics over spatio‐temporal scales unreachable by most empirical investigations. We describe the development that different forest modelling communities have followed to underpin the leverage that simulation models offer for advancing our understanding of forest ecosystems. Using three widely applied but contrasting approaches – species distribution models, individual‐based forest models, and dynamic global vegetation models – as examples, we show how scientific and technical advances have led models to transgress their initial objectives and limitations. We provide an overview of recent model applications on current important ecological topics and pinpoint ten key questions that could, and should, be tackled with forest models in the next decade. Synthesis. This overview shows that forest models, due to their complementarity and mutual enrichment, represent an invaluable toolkit to address a wide range of fundamental and applied ecological questions, hence fostering a deeper understanding of forest dynamics in the context of global change.