Forest disturbances impact ecosystems: John Healey and Aaron Shiels lead new specialty

Cozy, mossy green forest with warm back-light in the sunset

— by Timothy Gardner

Forests are constantly changing and adapting to disturbances in their environments. The widespread human perception, perhaps because of the long life of trees, is that forests are somehow constant, static, unchanging parts of our natural environment. The new Forest Disturbance specialty section seeks to build on a growing body of research, which has shown just how dynamic forests are as ecosystems, with complex patterns of change, largely resulting from disturbance.

Chief Editors John Healey and Aaron Shiels lead this new section in Frontiers in Forests and Global Change.

Aaron Shiels, Specialty Chief Editor for Forest Disturbance

Aaron Shiels

What is disturbance? 

Disturbances that have major effects on forests include wind- and rain-storms, earthquakes, droughts, floods, landslides, volcanic deposition, pollutants, invasive or pest species, and the multiple effects of human actions including plant and animal harvesting, livestock grazing, and road construction,” explain the new Chief Editors.

“Investigations of forest disturbances allow us to better understand processes of the natural world.  Disturbances can be natural, intentionally human-caused, or a by-product of human actions, independent or interactive, and occur across varying spatial and temporal scales. These events are intriguing because they alter and often reset these fascinating ecosystems, which allows for exciting studies about how forest communities and ecosystems respond to different types of disturbances. 

How are forests altered by these disturbances? How do they reassemble? What are the mechanisms that guide these changes and why do they differ (or not) among forests?  And scaling up, how are these events and processes shifting with global environmental change?

John Healey, Chief Editor of Forest Disturbance

John Healey

The widespread human perception, perhaps because of the long life of trees, is that forests are somehow constant, static, unchanging parts of our natural environment. Contrary to this, a growing body of research over the past 100 years has shown just how dynamic they are as ecosystems, with complex patterns of change, most of which can be attributed to disturbance.

Why is it so important to understand these patterns? 

Given the interaction of climate change with these types of disturbance, it is a critical time for research in this area. The impact of humans has generally been seen to accelerate the rate and intensity of disturbance, which can pose a significant threat to forests. Yet, intriguingly, the capacity of forest ecosystems to tolerate disturbance means that not all human impacts on forests are necessarily catastrophic. Forests have the capacity to resist, and recover from these impacts of disturbance, yet we still know far too little about the mechanisms regulating this capacity. This has implications for sustainable forest management and conservation of forest biodiversity, and provides enormous scope for innovative and important new research,” John Healey explains.

By maximising the visibility of important work being carried out by researchers, the Forest Disturbance section aims to bring this cutting-edge research to the forefront.

An open-access publishing outlet for this work such as Frontiers in Forests and Global Change will maximise the likelihood of this research being used as evidence to inform improvements to the current management and conservation of forests around the world,” adds John Healey.

The Forest Disturbance section is now open for high-quality submissions.

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Frontiers journals have some of the highest citation rates. Among the world’s 20 largest publishers in 2017, Frontiers ranks 4th most-cited with an average of 3.65 citations per article.  In total, Frontiers articles have received more than 700,000 citations to date.

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