Forests as complex adaptive systems: implications for forest management and modelling

Christian Messier, Klaus J. Puettmann


Addressing natural resource issues in the face of profound global changes presents new challenges for forest managers. These challenges have initiated a new cycle of development in approaches to management of forests for a wide variety of ecosystem goods and services. One of these approaches is based on the science of complex systems. Viewing forests as Complex Adaptive System (or CAS) is an emerging paradigm based on development of systems theory in other fields, such as physic, medicine, and socio-economics. This new conceptual framework recognises the complexity of systems (ecological, economic, and social), their hierarchical structures, the interactions and energy flows between these hierarchies, and their capacity for self-organisation and adaptations. One of the major challenges in forestry is to learn how to use these concepts to facilitate the ability of forest systems to self-organise and adapt in the face of global change in order for the forest to continue to fulfill human needs for ecosystem goods and services. Consequently, applying complexity systems thinking in this context has implications for our usage of new, but also conventional concepts and practices. In this paper we briefly review the science of complexity as applied to forest management and discuss how this science can be linked to modelling tools used in forest management. We specifically focus on predictability and modelling challenges to contrast the differences between our conventional view of forests and viewing forests as CAS. We conclude by suggesting that a new forest management paradigm based on heterogeneity, unpredictability and adaptability, rather than on uniformity, predictability, and “command and control” is better suited to deal with future challenges.


complexity; Complex Adaptive Systems; forest management; modelling

Full Text: PDF (Italiano)


  • There are currently no refbacks.