Changing drivers of deforestation and new opportunities for conservation

Thomas K. Rudel, Ruth Defries, Gregory P. Asner, William F. Laurance

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

430 Scopus citations


Over the past 50 years, human agents of deforestation have changed in ways that have potentially important implications for conservation efforts. We characterized these changes through a meta-analysis of case studies of land-cover change in the tropics. From the 1960s to the 1980s, small-scale farmers, with state assistance, deforested large areas of tropical forest in Southeast Asia and Latin America. As globalization and urbanization increased during the 1980s, the agents of deforestation changed in two important parts of the tropical biome, the lowland rainforests in Brazil and Indonesia. Well-capitalized ranchers, farmers, and loggers producing for consumers in distant markets became more prominent in these places and this globalization weakened the historically strong relationship between local population growth and forest cover. At the same time, forests have begun to regrow in some tropical uplands. These changing circumstances, we believe, suggest two new and differing strategies for biodiversity conservation in the tropics, one focused on conserving uplands and the other on promoting environmental stewardship in lowlands and other areas conducive to industrial agriculture.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1396-1405
Number of pages10
JournalConservation Biology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Conservation
  • Population trends
  • Tropical deforestation
  • Tropical rainforests

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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