Scientists & Staff

Eric Gustafson

Eric J. Gustafson

Research Landscape Ecologist
5985 Highway K
Rhinelander, WI, 54501-9128
Phone: 715-362-1152

Contact Eric J. Gustafson

Current Research

1. Using the forest landscape dynamics model LANDIS-II to scale site-level experimental research knowledge to policy-relevant scales. 2. Predicting the long-term outcome of climate-adaptive silviculture strategies. 3. Studying complex interactions of multiple ecological processes using a process-based landscape model (LANDIS-II). The process-based approach allows novel conditions (e.g., changing climate) to interact with disturbance and succession processes such that their combined effects are an emergent property of the simulations.

Research Interests

1. Development and application of LANDIS-II to study the effects of climate change and management alternatives on disturbance regimes, forest composition, and spatial pattern in temperate and boreal forests around the world. 2. Transfer of sophisticated modeling technology to forest managers and decision-makers.

Past Research

1.  I helped develop the LANDIS-II forest succession and disturbance model, which is the most widely used forest landscape model around the world.  2.  I am the lead developer of the PnET-Succession extension of LANDIS-II.  This extension is highly mechanistic, based on first prnciples of physics and physiology.  It has very direct links between abiotic drivers (e.g., climate, soils) and the growth and competition of tree cohorts across space and time.  This allows robust simulation of the impact on forest dynamics of novel scenarios that have no historical analog.  3.  I have worked with other scientists to study the interactions among human and natural disturbances to determine the risk of wildfire within large landscapes.

Why This Research is Important

This is important to help managers account for complex spatial and ecological interactions as they plan management strategies for large landscapes. These decision-support models allow managers to predict how proposed management options are likely to play out over large areas and long time periods.


  • Purdue University, Department of Forestry and Natural Resources, West Lafayette, IN., Ph.D. Landscape Ecology, 1992
  • SUNY-College of Environmental Science and Forestry, Department of Environmental and Forest Biology, M.S. Wildlife Ecology., 1983
  • Wheaton College (IL), B.S. Biology., 1978

Professional Experience

  • Research Ecologist, Northern Research Station-Rhinelander WI 2013 - Current
  • Project Leader and Research Ecologist, USDA Forest Service, North Central & Northern Research Station 1998 - 2012
  • Research Ecologist, USDA Forest Service, North Central Research Station 1992 - 1997

Professional Organizations

  • Ecological Society of America (1983 - Present)
  • International Association for Landscape Ecology (1990 - Present)
  • International Association for Landscape Ecology (U.S. Chapter) (1990 - Present)
  • International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO) (1996 - Present)
    Landscape Ecology Working Party

Awards & Recognition

  • Scientific, 2010 Distinguished Agriculture Alumni Award, College of Agriculture, Purdue University.
  • Scientific, 2008 Distinguished Science Award, Northern Research Station. The award recognizes the creative efforts and contributions of a Forest Service Research and Development scientist through their sustained research productivity.
  • Scientific, 2007 Distinguished Landscape Ecologist Award, US Regional Association of the International Association for Landscape Ecology. The award is to recognize individuals whose thinking and writing have helped to shape the field of landscape ecology.
  • Scientific, 1999 USDA Secretary's Honor Award for Superior Service.
  • Scientific, 1997 Presidential Award for Early Career Scientists and Engineers (plus $150,000 research grant)
  • Scientific, 1996 Forest Service Chief's Early Career Scientist Award
  • Academic, 1983 Wilford A. Dence Memorial Award ($1000). SUNY-College of Environmental Science and Forestry, Syracuse, NY. To an outstanding graduate student demonstrating scholarly achievement and potential for a successful professional career.

Featured Publications & Products

Publications & Products

Research Datasets

  • Potts, Robert S.; Gustafson, Eric J.; Stewart, Susan I.; Thompson, Frank R.; Bergen, Kathleen; Brown, Daniel G.; Hammer, Roger; Radeloff, Volker; Bengston, David; Sauer, John; Sturtevant, Brian. 2005. The changing Midwest assessment: data and shapefiles. St. Paul, MN: USDA Forest Service, North Central Research Station.

National Research Highlights

Scientists model the effects of restoring the American chestnut tree to the eastern U.S. landscape

Year: 2017

The American chestnut tree is fast growing, somewhat tolerant of shade, and its wood is resistant to decay. The chestnut tree might be capable of significantly increasing carbon storage if it could be restored to its former dominance across the eastern U.S., but is it capable of reasserting its dominance in the face of changing climate and new insect pests and can it increase carbon storage in eastern forests?

The user-interface of LandViz showing LANDIS-II projections of quaking aspen biomass on the Chippewa National Forest after 100 years of “business as usual” management under current climate and (left) and a warmer and wetter climate (right). Melissa Lucash, Portland State University.

LandViz: Visualization of Landscape Model Outputs to Support Management Decisions

Year: 2016

Forest Service scientists developed an intuitive, browser-based tool called "LandViz" that allows stakeholders to easily visualize how climate and management scenarios may change a landscape.

Figure 1. Contrasts of fire severity (light: a,b; severe (severe: c, d) for the Pagami Creek Fire. Remotely-sensed estimates of fire
severity such as the relative difference normalized burn ratio (RdNBR) are most strongly related to tree impacts. Loss of C, N, and Hg
from the forest floor were most strongly related to soil burn severity indices measured at the point of sampling, where the sampling
ring in b & d are 30 cm in diameter. Brian Sturtevant, U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service.

Scaling Up Ecosystem Impacts of the Pagami Creek Fire in Northern Minnesota

Year: 2016

Quantifying fire severity is critical to understanding the ecosystem impacts of wildfire. Forest Service research demonstrates the magnitude of ecosystem impacts from large wildfires, the challenges of relating those impacts to repeatable and scalable fire severity indices, and the application of remote sensing to help scale severity and ecosystem impacts of large wildfires.

Precipitation manipulation experiment, Sevellita LTER, New Mexico. The troughs exist to limit precipitation on plants, simulating drought conditions. William T. Pockman, University of New Mexico

Mechanistic Landscape Modeling of Drought Effects

Year: 2014

Drought is expected to become more prevalent and will probably be a major factor in increasing tree mortality. Landscape-scale forest models have very weak links between precipitation extremes and forest growth and mortality. Forest Service researchers developed a relatively mechanistic model to link water availability and tree species growth and tested it using data from a field precipitation manipulation experiment in a piñon-juniper ecosystem in New Mexico. The approach should better link temperature and precipitation to tree species competition for light and water in forest landscape models; thus, greatly improving their utility for climate change research.

Aerial view of the Aspen FACE experiment showing the control facilities (middle left), and the 12 atmospheric treatment rings of four treatments with three replicates.  In the ring at bottom center, the different model forest communities are visible. David F. Karnosky, Michigan Tech University.

Scientists Predict Survivability Factors for Northern Forests Given Elevated CO2 and Ozone Levels

Year: 2013

The researchers scaled up a high-profile 11-year ecosystem experiment called Aspen-FACE to assess how elevated carbon dioxide and ozone levels might impact real forests at the landscape scale over the course of many future decades. They determined that there will be winners and losers among species and within species groups but that managers can have considerable control over the outcomes by managing disturbance effects on forests and landscape spatial patterns. The researchers also found that changes will be gradual and that few species are likely to disappear completely because of carbon dioxide and ozone effects alone.

Leaf scorch is a drought symptom in linden trees.  Joseph O'Brien, Forest Service

Model Assesses the Influence of Drought Stress on Forest Relative to Other Factors

Year: 2012

Drought stress data added to a forest landscape disturbance and succession model show that length of drought is more important than severity

Last modified: Friday, September 30, 2022