Trends in size of tropical deforestation events signal increasing dominance of industrial-scale drivers

Kemen G. Austin, Mariano González-Roglich, Danica Schaffer-Smith, Amanda M. Schwantes, Jennifer J. Swenson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

74 Scopus citations


Deforestation continues across the tropics at alarming rates, with repercussions for ecosystem processes, carbon storage and long term sustainability. Taking advantage of recent fine-scale measurement of deforestation, this analysis aims to improve our understanding of the scale of deforestation drivers in the tropics. We examined trends in forest clearings of different sizes from 2000-2012 by country, region and development level. As tropical deforestation increased from approximately 6900 kha yr-1 in the first half of the study period, to >7900 kha yr-1 in the second half of the study period, >50% of this increase was attributable to the proliferation of medium and large clearings (>10 ha). This trend was most pronounced in Southeast Asia and in South America. Outside of Brazil >60% of the observed increase in deforestation in South America was due to an upsurge in medium- and large-scale clearings; Brazil had a divergent trend of decreasing deforestation, >90% of which was attributable to a reduction in medium and large clearings. The emerging prominence of large-scale drivers of forest loss in many regions and countries suggests the growing need for policy interventions which target industrial-scale agricultural commodity producers. The experience in Brazil suggests that there are promising policy solutions to mitigate large-scale deforestation, but that these policy initiatives do not adequately address small-scale drivers. By providing up-to-date and spatially explicit information on the scale of deforestation, and the trends in these patterns over time, this study contributes valuable information for monitoring, and designing effective interventions to address deforestation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number054009
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 9 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • conservation policy
  • export agriculture
  • forest transition
  • industrial plantations
  • land use
  • monitoring
  • spatiotemporal dynamics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • General Environmental Science
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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