Reconstructing disturbances and their biogeochemical consequences over multiple timescales

Kendra K. McLauchlan, Philip E. Higuera, Daniel G. Gavin, Steven S. Perakis, Michelle C. Mack, Heather Alexander, John Battles, Franco Biondi, Brian Buma, Daniele Colombaroli, Sara K. Enders, Daniel R. Engstrom, Feng Sheng Hu, Jennifer R. Marlon, John Marshall, Matt McGlone, Jesse L. Morris, Lucas E. Nave, Bryan Shuman, Erica A.H. SmithwickDunia H. Urrego, David A. Wardle, Christopher J. Williams, Joseph J. Williams

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

46 Scopus citations


Ongoing changes in disturbance regimes are predicted to cause acute changes in ecosystem structure and function in the coming decades, but many aspects of these predictions are uncertain. A key challenge is to improve the predictability of postdisturbance biogeochemical trajectories at the ecosystem level. Ecosystem ecologists and paleoecologists have generated complementary data sets about disturbance (type, severity, frequency) and ecosystem response (net primary productivity, nutrient cycling) spanning decadal to millennial timescales. Here, we take the first steps toward a full integration of these data sets by reviewing how disturbances are reconstructed using dendrochronological and sedimentary archives and by summarizing the conceptual frameworks for carbon, nitrogen, and hydrologic responses to disturbances. Key research priorities include further development of paleoecological techniques that reconstruct both disturbances and terrestrial ecosystem dynamics. In addition, mechanistic detail from disturbance experiments, long-term observations, and chronosequences can help increase the understanding of ecosystem resilience.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)105-116
Number of pages12
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 1 2014
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank the National Science Foundation (grant no. DEB-1144879) for funding the PROBE (Paleo Reconstructions of Biogeochemical Environments) workshop, during which these ideas were developed. Any use of trade names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the US government. We thank Joseph Craine and Fred Swanson for helpful discussion.


  • disturbance
  • ecosystem ecology
  • fire regime
  • nitrogen cycling
  • resilience


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