Tropical forests continue to undergo a rapid transformation. The expansion of rubber tree (Hevea brasiliensis) plantations has been reported as a major driver of forest loss, linked to a boom in market demand. Distant commodity markets have spurred a surge of large-scale economic land concessions granted throughout tropical Southeast Asia. Using satellite imagery, we show the impact of rubber tree plantations on Cambodian forest cover and analyse how annual forest-to-rubber conversion rates relate to global rubber prices from 2001 to 2015. We found that 23.5 ± 1.8% of national forest cover was cleared in this period, with 23.2 ± 3.6% of cleared forest converted to rubber plantations. Annual forest-to-rubber conversion rates closely correlated with global rubber prices, with a time lag of 8–9 months (Pearson’s r = 0.93). Our results reveal a strong link between global commodity markets and tropical forest loss, particularly in countries with land policies geared towards rapid development.
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The satellite image datasets analysed during the current study are available online from the following sources: https://espa.cr.usgs.gov/ (Landsat imagery), https://search.earthdata.nasa.gov/search (MODIS imagery) and https://scihub.copernicus.eu/dhus/#/home (Sentinel-2 imagery). Code relating to the processing of the data are available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.
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This research has been part of the research project entitled Impacts of Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation and Enhancing Carbon Stocks (I-REDD+). I-REDD+ is funded by the European Community’s Seventh Framework Research Programme (grant no. 265286). More information can be found at http://www.iredd.dk/. This research contributes to the Global Land Programme (https://glp.earth/) and the Landsat Science Team (https://landsat.usgs.gov/2018-2023-science-team).
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Regional Environmental Change (2019)