Research ArticleENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES

Types and rates of forest disturbance in Brazilian Legal Amazon, 2000–2013

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Science Advances  12 Apr 2017:
Vol. 3, no. 4, e1601047
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1601047

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Abstract

Deforestation rates in primary humid tropical forests of the Brazilian Legal Amazon (BLA) have declined significantly since the early 2000s. Brazil’s national forest monitoring system provides extensive information for the BLA but lacks independent validation and systematic coverage outside of primary forests. We use a sample-based approach to consistently quantify 2000–2013 tree cover loss in all forest types of the region and characterize the types of forest disturbance. Our results provide unbiased forest loss area estimates, which confirm the reduction of primary forest clearing (deforestation) documented by official maps. By the end of the study period, nonprimary forest clearing, together with primary forest degradation within the BLA, became comparable in area to deforestation, accounting for an estimated 53% of gross tree cover loss area and 26 to 35% of gross aboveground carbon loss. The main type of tree cover loss in all forest types was agroindustrial clearing for pasture (63% of total loss area), followed by small-scale forest clearing (12%) and agroindustrial clearing for cropland (9%), with natural woodlands being directly converted into croplands more often than primary forests. Fire accounted for 9% of the 2000–2013 primary forest disturbance area, with peak disturbances corresponding to droughts in 2005, 2007, and 2010. The rate of selective logging exploitation remained constant throughout the study period, contributing to forest fire vulnerability and degradation pressures. As the forest land use transition advances within the BLA, comprehensive tracking of forest transitions beyond primary forest loss is required to achieve accurate carbon accounting and other monitoring objectives.

Keywords
  • Brazil
  • Amazon
  • deforestation
  • forest loss
  • Forest Monitoring
  • carbon dynamics
  • remote sensing
  • sampling

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