Andean forests decreased in area over the past decade, and communities throughout the Andes are experiencing environmental degradation and soil fertility loss. But amid deforestation, forests returned to some Andean regions, producing local ‘forest transitions’, or net increases in forest cover.

The mechanisms that drive these local transitions – often in part the actions of residents – are still little studied, but hold key information for creating successful forest and landscape restoration interventions.

This paper investigates cloud forest cover dynamics in Intag, a region in northwest Andean Ecuador where people were actively reforesting by planting trees. Researchers used remote sensing analysis of LANDSAT imagery (from 1991, 2001, and 2010) and household surveys and oral histories with residents of four communities. Results from remote sensing show that prior to reforestation projects (before 2001), deforestation rates were high (> 3%/year). But from 2001 to 2010 forest recovery surpassed deforestation – a local forest transition (net 3% forest cover). But although deforestation rates slowed precipitously (< 2%) people continued to clear forests in the highlands even as forests regrew around communities. This change in clearing rates and spatial redistribution of forest cover reflects people’s reasons for planting trees – to restore water and other key ecosystem services perceive to be ‘scarce’. The results point to a new ‘path’ by which forest transitions occur – the ecosystem service scarcity path – in which local demand for forest ecosystem services drive forest recovery.

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Wilson, S.J., Coomes, O.T. & Dallaire, C.O. Reg Environ Change (2019) 19: 2437.

Photo by Arabsalam


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