Send to

Choose Destination
Biol Rev Camb Philos Soc. 2016 Aug;91(3):760-81. doi: 10.1111/brv.12193. Epub 2015 May 22.

Natural disturbance impacts on ecosystem services and biodiversity in temperate and boreal forests.

Author information

Institute of Silviculture, Department of Forest- and Soil Sciences, University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences (BOKU) Vienna, Peter-Jordan-Straße 82, 1190, Vienna, Austria.


In many parts of the world forest disturbance regimes have intensified recently, and future climatic changes are expected to amplify this development further in the coming decades. These changes are increasingly challenging the main objectives of forest ecosystem management, which are to provide ecosystem services sustainably to society and maintain the biological diversity of forests. Yet a comprehensive understanding of how disturbances affect these primary goals of ecosystem management is still lacking. We conducted a global literature review on the impact of three of the most important disturbance agents (fire, wind, and bark beetles) on 13 different ecosystem services and three indicators of biodiversity in forests of the boreal, cool- and warm-temperate biomes. Our objectives were to (i) synthesize the effect of natural disturbances on a wide range of possible objectives of forest management, and (ii) investigate standardized effect sizes of disturbance for selected indicators via a quantitative meta-analysis. We screened a total of 1958 disturbance studies published between 1981 and 2013, and reviewed 478 in detail. We first investigated the overall effect of disturbances on individual ecosystem services and indicators of biodiversity by means of independence tests, and subsequently examined the effect size of disturbances on indicators of carbon storage and biodiversity by means of regression analysis. Additionally, we investigated the effect of commonly used approaches of disturbance management, i.e. salvage logging and prescribed burning. We found that disturbance impacts on ecosystem services are generally negative, an effect that was supported for all categories of ecosystem services, i.e. supporting, provisioning, regulating, and cultural services (P < 0.001). Indicators of biodiversity, i.e. species richness, habitat quality and diversity indices, on the other hand were found to be influenced positively by disturbance (P < 0.001). Our analyses thus reveal a 'disturbance paradox', documenting that disturbances can put ecosystem services at risk while simultaneously facilitating biodiversity. A detailed investigation of disturbance effect sizes on carbon storage and biodiversity further underlined these divergent effects of disturbance. While a disturbance event on average causes a decrease in total ecosystem carbon by 38.5% (standardized coefficient for stand-replacing disturbance), it on average increases overall species richness by 35.6%. Disturbance-management approaches such as salvage logging and prescribed burning were neither found significantly to mitigate negative effects on ecosystem services nor to enhance positive effects on biodiversity, and thus were not found to alleviate the disturbance paradox. Considering that climate change is expected to intensify natural disturbance regimes, our results indicate that biodiversity will generally benefit from such changes while a sustainable provisioning of ecosystem services might come increasingly under pressure. This underlines that disturbance risk and resilience require increased attention in ecosystem management in the future, and that new approaches to addressing the disturbance paradox in management are needed.


bark beetles; biodiversity; disturbance effect; disturbance paradox; ecosystem services; fire; forest management; prescribed burning; salvage logging; wind

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Wiley Icon for PubMed Central
Loading ...
Support Center