Tree Cover Change

New Forests are Arising in Diverse Socio-ecological Contexts, with Important Consequences for People, Biodiversity, and Ecosystem Services

The world’s tropical forests are continually in flux, and are much more dynamic than global estimates of tree cover would suggest. Tree plantations and natural forests are reappearing in previously deforested areas across the tropics. Tree plantations are also directly replacing natural forests in some contexts. Many drivers influence the extent, rate, and nature of tree cover change, including agricultural abandonment, migration from urban to rural areas, demand for timber products or other commodities, and government-led initiatives to mitigate climate change.

The type of tree cover that regrows has direct implications on biodiversity, local livelihoods, and ecosystem services, and depends on the nature of the drivers of the transition. Even in regions where overall tree cover remains relatively constant, transformations in the quality of tree cover have social and ecological impacts. Monoculture plantations for timber or pulp offer high economic returns but support low biodiversity. Agroforests can increase food security and provide local sources of timber, but provide low levels of cash income. Naturally regenerating forests produce the widest range of ecosystem services and habitats for biodiversity, but strict regulations often prohibit sustainable harvesting of trees to support smallholder incomes.