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LaForeT · R² | Drivers of deforestation

Spatial analysis of the drivers of tropical de-/reforestation and forest degradation.

The tropical climatic domain accounts for almost half of the total forest area worldwide, while having experienced the largest negative net reduction in tree cover between 1992 and 2015, when compared to other biomes (FAO, 2020). These dynamics, together with the associated processes of forest degradation (Edwards et al., 2011; Foley et al., 2007) and landscape fragmentation (Taubert et al., 2018), pose a threat to the ecosystem services and functions provided by tropical forests (Foley et al., 2005; Edwards et al., 2014).

As a result, soil and water quality, biodiversity and carbon stocks are directly affected, together with local livelihoods (Reed et al., 2017). Moreover, tropical deforestation and degradation are also seen as important causes of global greenhouse gas emissions (Seymour and Busch, 2016; Baccini et al., 2017). The drivers of tropical deforestation and degradation are complex and vary between regions, but they are mostly related to land use and anthropogenic pressure, such as expansion of pastures, agro-industrial crops and small-scale forest clearings, selective logging, fire or infrastructure (Curtis et al., 2018; Ferretti-Gallon and Busch, 2014; Seymour and Harris, 2019).

Although these causes are largely known, a better understanding of these drivers across different countries, deforestation contexts and spatial scales is needed. This, together with the development of more accurate tools for the fair and effective monitoring of forest cover and its change across geographical regions and deforestation contexts, are preconditions for designing efficient international policies and coherent land use planning strategies that foster the sustainable use of forest resources in the Tropics (GFOI, 2020).

We focus in the deforestation and forest degradation processes happening in the three LaForeT countries: Zambia, Ecuador and Philippines. The selected countries and regions constitute a gradient of deforestation contexts, regarding their current forest cover and their historical deforestation rates. We perform cross-country pantropical analyses, which apply at different spatial scales, ranging from the landscape or local level to national comparisons. We make use of geographic information systems and remote sensing methods and data, in order to shed some light to the following questions:

  • Are well-studied global drivers of tropical deforestation also constant across different subnational administrative levels?
  • How strong is the impact of neighbouring units?
  • How accurately can we monitor forest cover and the causes of its change?
  • Are these trends the same for different tropical deforestation contexts and forest condition/disturbance regimes, or are there country/region specific behaviours?

Our research findings provide implications for the effective monitoring of forest cover in the Tropics and the causes of its change. This provides decision support for policymakers and international environmental programmes, such as REDD+, Forest Landscape Restoration, and the goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

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