Upturn in secondary forest clearing buffers primary forest loss in the Brazilian Amazon


Brazil contains two-thirds of remaining Amazonian rainforests and is responsible for the most Amazon forest loss. Primary forest loss in the Brazilian Amazon has declined considerably since 2004 but secondary forest loss has never been quantified. We use a recently developed high-resolution land use/land cover dataset to track secondary forests in the Brazilian Amazon over 14 yr, providing the first estimates of secondary forest loss for the region. We find that secondary forest loss increased by (187 ± 48)% from 2008 to 2014. Moreover, the proportion of total forest loss accounted for by secondary forests rose from (37 ± 3)% in 2000 to (72 ± 5)% in 2014. The recent acceleration in secondary forests loss occurred across the entire region and was not driven simply by increasing secondary forest area but probably a conscious preferential shift towards clearance of a little-protected forest ecosystem (secondary forests). Our results suggest that secondary forests loss has eased deforestation pressure on primary forests. However, this has been at the expense of a lost carbon sequestration opportunity of 2.59–2.66 Pg C over our study period.

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Fig. 1: Sample-based estimates of annual primary and secondary forest loss in the Brazilian Amazon from 2000 to 2014.
Fig. 2: Spatio-temporal variation of secondary forest loss as fraction of total forest loss in the Brazilian Amazon.
Fig. 3: Distribution of percentage loss rate of secondary forests by age group (0–4 yr, 4–8 yr and >8 yr).
Fig. 4: Comparison of secondary forest loss between actual estimates from TERRACLASS and null model predictions.

Data availability

The data that support the findings of this study are available from the paper or from the supplementary materials. The TERRACLASS dataset used in current study is freely available from https://www.terraclass.gov.br/.

Code availability

The Google Earth Engine (GEE) codes analysed during current study are available in Y.W.’s GEE repository: https://code.earthengine.google.com/?accept_repo=users/wangyxtina/public


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This work was funded by a China Scholarship Council/University of Leeds grant to Y.W. (grant no. 201506300051), a Google Earth Engine Research Award (2016) to G.Z. and D.G., a NERC-funded standard grant to D.G. (TREMOR project grant no. NE/N004655/1), a Royal Society Newton Advanced Fellowship to M.A. (NAF/R1/180405) and a Horizon 2020 programme grant to G.Z. (ECOPOTENTIAL project grant no. 641762). We thank M.A., L. Santos and T. Lisboa for the contribution of visual interpretation of our sampling pixels. We thank the many dedicated staff at INPE and EMBRAPA who produce the PRODES and TERRACLASS products; these efforts are critical for understanding land use change dynamics in the Brazilian Amazon. We thank T. Baker and S. Batterman for providing useful feedback on an earlier version of the manuscript.

Author information

Y.W., D.G. and G.Z. developed the concept and methodological work plan. Y.W. performed the data analysis with support from G.Z. and D.G. M.A., C.A.A., J.F.G.A., A.C.C., J.C.D.M.E. and A.R.G. coordinated the development of the TERRACLASS products. M.A. performed visual interpretation of the sampled pixels for sample-based estimates, with L. Santos and T. Lisboa (mentioned in Acknowledgements). Y.W., D.G. and G.Z. wrote the paper with contributions from M.A. All authors discussed results and commented on the manuscript.

Correspondence to Yunxia Wang or David Galbraith.

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Supplementary Figs. 1–4, Tables 1–12 and refs. 1 and 2.

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Wang, Y., Ziv, G., Adami, M. et al. Upturn in secondary forest clearing buffers primary forest loss in the Brazilian Amazon. Nat Sustain (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41893-019-0470-4

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