Evidence of incipient forest transition in Southern Mexico.

Research paper by Raúl Abel RA Vaca, Duncan John DJ Golicher, Luis L Cayuela, Jenny J Hewson, Marc M Steininger

Indexed on: 21 Aug '12Published on: 21 Aug '12Published in: PloS one


Case studies of land use change have suggested that deforestation across Southern Mexico is accelerating. However, forest transition theory predicts that trajectories of change can be modified by economic factors, leading to spatial and temporal heterogeneity in rates of change that may take the form of the Environmental Kuznets Curve (EKC). This study aimed to assess the evidence regarding potential forest transition in Southern Mexico by classifying regional forest cover change using Landsat imagery from 1990 through to 2006. Patterns of forest cover change were found to be complex and non-linear. When rates of forest loss were averaged over 342 municipalities using mixed-effects modelling the results showed a significant (p<0.001) overall reduction of the mean rate of forest loss from 0.85% per year in the 1990-2000 period to 0.67% in the 2000-2006 period. The overall regional annual rate of deforestation has fallen from 0.33% to 0.28% from the 1990s to 2000s. A high proportion of the spatial variability in forest cover change cannot be explained statistically. However analysis using spline based general additive models detected underlying relationships between forest cover and income or population density of a form consistent with the EKC. The incipient forest transition has not, as yet, resulted in widespread reforestation. Forest recovery remains below 0.20% per year. Reforestation is mostly the result of passive processes associated with reductions in the intensity of land use. Deforestation continues to occur at high rates in some focal areas. A transition could be accelerated if there were a broader recognition among policy makers that the regional rate of forest loss has now begun to fall. The changing trajectory provides an opportunity to actively restore forest cover through stimulating afforestation and stimulating more sustainable land use practices. The results have clear implications for policy aimed at carbon sequestration through reducing deforestation and enhancing forest growth.