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Deforestation and economic growth trends on oceanic islands highlight the need for meso-scale analysis and improved mid-range theory in conservation

Nitin Bhatia, ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University
Graeme S. Cumming, ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University


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Forests both support biodiversity and provide a wide range of benefits to people at multiple scales. Global and national remote sensing analyses of drivers of forest change generally focus on broad-scale influences on area (composition), ignoring arrangement (configuration). To explore meso-scale relationships, we compared forest composition and configuration to six indicators of economic growth over 23 years (1992–2015) of satellite data for 23 island nations. Based on global analyses, we expected to find clear relationships between economic growth and forest cover. Eleven islands lost 1 to 50% of forest cover, eight gained 1 to 28%, and four remained steady. Surprisingly, we found no clear relationship between economic growth trends and forest-cover change trajectories. These results differ from those of global land-cover change analyses and suggest that conservation-oriented policy and management approaches developed at both national and local scales are ignoring key meso-scale processes.

Key words

deforestation; economic indicators; land-cover change; land-use change; landscape composition; landscape configuration; remote sensing

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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087