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The neotropical reforestation hotspots: A biophysical and socioeconomic typology of contemporary forest expansion

Nanni, A. Sofía, Sloan, Sean, Aide, T. Mitchell, Graesser, Jordan, Edwards, David, Grau, H. Ricardo
Global environmental change 2019 v.54 pp. 148-159
agroecology, arid lands, climate, deforestation, forests, global change, land cover, moderate resolution imaging spectroradiometer, mountains, ordination techniques, reforestation, roughness, satellites, urbanization, Caribbean, Latin America
Tropical reforestation is a significant component of global environmental change that is far less understood than tropical deforestation, despite having apparently increased widely in scale during recent decades. The regional contexts defining such reforestation have not been well described. They are likely to differ significantly from the geographical profiles outlined by site-specific observations that predominate in the literature. In response, this article determines the distribution, extent, and defining contexts of apparently spontaneous reforestation. It delineates regional ‘hotspots’ of significant net reforestation across Latin America and the Caribbean and defines a typology of these hotspots with reference to the biophysical and socioeconomic characteristics that unite and distinguish amongst them. Fifteen regional hotspots were identified on the basis of spatial criteria pertaining to the area, distribution, and rate of reforestation 2001–2014, observed using a custom continental MODIS satellite land-cover classification. Collectively, these hotspots cover 11% of Latin America and the Caribbean and they include 167,667.7 km2 of new forests. Comparisons with other remotely sensed estimates of reforestation indicate that these hotspots contain a significant amount of tropical reforestation, continentally and pantropically. The extent of reforestation as a proportion of its hotspot was relatively invariable (3–14%) given large disparities in hotspot areas and contexts. An ordination analysis defined a typology of five clusters, distinguished largely by their topographical roughness and related aspects of agro-ecological marginality, climate, population trends, and degree of urbanization: ‘Urban lowlands’, ‘Mountainous populated areas’, ‘Rural highlands’, ‘Rural humid lands’ and ‘Rural dry lands’. The typology highlights that a range of distinct, even oppositional regional biophysical, demographic, and agricultural contexts have equally given rise to significant, regional net reforestation, urging a concomitant diversification of forest transition science.