Scientists & Staff

Brian R. Sturtevant

Research Ecologist
5985 Highway K
Rhinelander, WI, 54501-9128
Phone: 715-362-1105

Contact Brian R. Sturtevant

Current Research

I am interested in the multi-scale processes affecting the health and function of forested and mixed-use landscapes, and I have focused on three research avenues falling under this broader theme. First, I am investigating the spatial-temporal dynamics and impacts of disturbance by forest insect defoliators, using a combination of remote sensing, pattern analysis, and simulation modeling. Second, I am investigating interactions between natural and human processes as they influence fire dynamics. This research includes analyses of modern fire databases in the upper Midwest, and the simulation of fire disturbance patterns as influenced by human activities, forest management, and insect disturbances. Third, I am working with Canadian scientists to develop a multi-scale toolkit approach to providing information for sustainable forest management across diverse ecological and socioeconomic systems.

Research Interests

I will continue to pursue our understanding of the drivers underlying spatial patterns of insect disturbances, employing technologies from other disciplines including molecular techniques and atmospheric modeling. The effect of climate change on insect disturbance regimes is another key area of research I wish to pursue. Finally, I am interested in how human development patterns will interact with forest disturbances and other ecosystem processes at decade to century time scales.

Why This Research is Important

Insects cause more economic damage to forest resources in the conterminous United States than any other disturbance, but our understanding of the landscape-scale factors affecting their dynamics is poorly understood. Insight into landscape pattern interacts with the dynamics of forest pests can lead to the design of pest-resistant landscapes through forest management. We also know that humans have enormous influence over the structure and character of our forested land base. Understanding how forested systems respond to human processes will allow managers to better balance multiple and sometimes conflicting objectives for our public lands (e.g., biodiversity, recreation, public safety, water quality, etc.). This new complexity in land management also requires effective decision support tools to enable land managers to make better strategic decisions based on the best available science.


  • University of Maryland at College Park, Ph.D. Ecology, 2001
  • Utah State University, M.S. Wildlife Ecology, 1996
  • Rutgers University, B.S. Natural Resources Management, 1992

Professional Organizations

  • International Association for Landscape Ecology (U.S. Chapter)
  • Ecological Society of America
  • Society for Conservation Biology

Featured Publications & Products

Publications & Products

Research Datasets

  • Wolter, Peter T.; Sturtevant, Brian R.; Miranda, Brian R.; Lietz, Sue M.; Townsend, Philip A.; Pastor, John. 2012. Greater Border Lakes Region land cover classification and change detection. Newtown Square, PA: USDA Forest Service, Northern Research Station.
  • 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?

Figure 1. Isle Royale National Park (upper left) is home to populations of wolves and moose (upper right, data from Vucetich and Peterson 2015). Simulated trends (+/- 90 percent confidence intervals) in moose population density (lower left), and available forage biomass/moose carrying capacity (lower right) for the three predation scenarios. Actual moose population estimates for Isle Royale from 2006-2015 (black) are provided for reference.
Figure 2. Simulated changes in forest types at Isle Royale after 100 years of no predation vs strong predation rates.

Modeling wolf-moose forest interactions at Isle Royale National Park

Year: 2017

The loss of top predators may have unintended consequences for forest composition and function. Forest Service scientists partnered with the U.S. Geologic Survey and National Park Service to investigate the effects of alternative wolf predation scenarios on the moose and forest dynamics at Isle Royale National Park near Michigan’s border with Canada. Will the impending loss of wolves from the park affect the future state of the forest ecosystem?

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.

Book cover

Simulation Modeling of Forest Landscape Disturbances

Year: 2015

Simulation models of landscape disturbances have proliferated and matured. A Forest Service scientist co-edited the book “Simulation Modeling of Forest Landscape Disturbances” that represents a synthesis of the current state of knowledge in forest landscape disturbance models across a wide variety of processes that include physical (drought, wind, and fire), biological (defoliating insects, bark beetles, and tree pathogens) and human-caused activities, interactions between disturbances and climate change, and subsequent landscape recovery. Contributing authors applied models across these different dimensions to explore advancements and challenges in modeling techniques and identify future needs in quantifying forest landscape disturbances.

The Border Lakes Ecoregion contains (top) has starkly different land management histories separated by political boundaries.  Divergent land management histories created differences in landscape patterns of spruce budworm host (i.e., spruce and fir) that were mapped using remote sensing.  Spruce budworm disturbance histories reconstructed via tree-ring analyses across this study area include a range of outbreak frequencies and intensities (lower left, where position roughly corresponds to geographic location).  The greatest variation in the time-series of outbreak patterns were explained by forest configuration, followed by forest proportion, and then the variance shared by these two variables, while climate accounted for comparatively little variation (lower left). USDA Forest Service

Changes in Host Abundance Following Harvesting Desynchronize Forest Insect Pest Outbreaks

Year: 2015

A Forest Service scientist led an international team to investigate how different historic forest management practices have affected spruce budworm outbreaks in a large “experimental landscape” spanning the U.S.-Canadian border. Their results show the strongest evidence to date that human-mediated changes to forest landscapes affect the intensity and consequences of forest insect outbreaks at broad spatial scales.

Study findings showed the Ovenbird (Seiurus aurocapilla) had significantly increasing numbers since 1995 in three National Forests: Chippewa, Superior and Chequamegon-Nicolet.  In addition, the Ovenbird and Red-eyed Vireo were the two most abundantly recorded species in the Chippewa and Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forests. Common species such as the Ovenbird tended to occur in many forest cover types, but most commonly in upland hardwood forests. Jon Swanson

Bird Monitoring in the Western Great Lakes National Forests Shows Stabilized Breeding Bird Populations

Year: 2014

The results from 20 years of forest bird monitoring in four national forests in Minnesota and Wisconsin show positive trends in breeding bird population stability. The new report by Forest Service scientists and partners represents the most comprehensive volume of quantitative information ever compiled on the trends, habitat use, and community assemblages of breeding forest birds of the western Great Lakes region.

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.

Spruce and fir increase the vertical connectivity of live fuels, enhancing potential for crown-fire activity. Brian Sturtevant , Forest Service

Spruce Budworm Effects on Fire Risk and Vegetation in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness

Year: 2012

Insect-killed trees do not necessarily increase fire risk

Last modified: Wednesday, December 2, 2020