Remote sensing enables the quantification of tropical deforestation with high spatial resolution1,2. This in-depth mapping has led to substantial advances in the analysis of continent-wide fragmentation of tropical forests1,2,3,4. Here we identified approximately 130 million forest fragments in three continents that show surprisingly similar power-law size and perimeter distributions as well as fractal dimensions. Power-law distributions5,6,7 have been observed in many natural phenomena8,9 such as wildfires, landslides and earthquakes. The principles of percolation theory7,10,11 provide one explanation for the observed patterns, and suggest that forest fragmentation is close to the critical point of percolation; simulation modelling also supports this hypothesis. The observed patterns emerge not only from random deforestation, which can be described by percolation theory10,11, but also from a wide range of deforestation and forest-recovery regimes. Our models predict that additional forest loss will result in a large increase in the total number of forest fragments—at maximum by a factor of 33 over 50 years—as well as a decrease in their size, and that these consequences could be partly mitigated by reforestation and forest protection.
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The project has been supported by the Helmholtz Alliance Remote Sensing and Earth System Dynamics. A.H. and T.W. were supported by the European Research Council Advanced Grant 233066. We thank A. Hein and A. Bogdanowski for assistance, A. Hartmann for discussion, M. Dantas de Paula for data handling, and S. Paulick and F. Bohn for technical support.
Extended data figures
Fragment size distributions (green bars: FRAG, line: observation from remote sensing) and the spatial patterns of fragments on a map of a selected sub-area of 900 ha is shown (FRAG, cleared sites are white and colours indicate fragment size, see Methods for details). For graphical purposes only, fragments < 10 ha are also shown.
Fragment size distributions (green bars: FRAG-B with dborder = 0.995, line: observation from remote sensing) and the spatial patterns of fragments on a map of a selected sub-area of 900 ha is shown (FRAG-B, cleared sites are white and colours indicate fragment size, see Methods for details). For graphical purposes only, fragments < 10 ha are also shown.
About this article
Past and potential future effects of habitat fragmentation on structure and stability of plant–pollinator and host–parasitoid networks
Nature Ecology & Evolution (2018)