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Uncovering major types of deforestation frontiers across the world’s tropical dry woodlands

Abstract

Tropical dry woodlands are rapidly being lost to agricultural expansion, but how deforestation dynamics play out in these woodlands remains poorly understood. We have developed an approach to detect and map high-level patterns of deforestation frontiers, that is, the expansion of woodland loss across continents in unprecedented spatio-temporal detail. Deforestation in tropical dry woodlands is pervasive, with over 71 Mha lost since 2000 and one-third of wooded areas located in deforestation frontiers. Over 24.3 Mha of deforestation frontiers fall into what we term ‘rampant frontiers’. These are characterized by drastic woodland loss and conditions favourable for capital-intensive agriculture, as seen in the South American Chaco and Southeast Asia. We have found many active and emerging frontiers (~59% of all frontiers), mostly in the understudied dry woodlands of Africa and Asia, where greater frontier monitoring is needed. Our approach enables consistent, repeatable frontier monitoring, and our global frontier typology fosters comparative research and context-specific policymaking.

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Fig. 1: Analytical framework to derive major deforestation frontiers in the world’s tropical dry woodlands.
Fig. 2: Severity types of deforestation frontiers in tropical dry woodlands.
Fig. 3: Spatio-temporal pattern types of deforestation frontiers in tropical dry woodlands.
Fig. 4: Development stage types of deforestation frontiers in tropical dry woodlands.
Fig. 5: Archetypes of deforestation frontiers in tropical dry woodlands.
Fig. 6: Characteristics of frontier archetypes.

Data availability

All datasets used here are publicly available and are referenced. Data outputs from this study are publicly available on Zenodo at https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.6141799. The methodological steps are described in the Methods and Supplementary Information.

Code availability

The code used for the development of frontier metrics, typologies and archetypes in this study is permanently and publicly available on Zenodo at https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.6141799.

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Acknowledgements

A.B. was supported by the Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia (FCT), IP, through a PhD grant (SFRH/BD/143236/2019). A.B. and T.K. are grateful for financial support of this project through a start-up grant by Humboldt-University Berlin. This project received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (projects 677140 MIDLAND to P.M. and 101001239 SYSTEMSHIFT to T.K.). This work contributes to the Global Land Programme (https://glp.earth).

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A.B., T.K., M.B. and P.M. conceived the research idea. A.B. and M.B. collected the data. A.B. led the design of the analytical framework, the data analysis and the writing. M.B., P.M. and T.K. contributed to the interpretation of results and the writing of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Ana Buchadas.

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Nature Sustainability thanks Mário Marcos do Espírito Santo, Ole Mertz and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Supplementary Figs. 1–8, Tables 1–3, Text 1 and 2, and references.

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Buchadas, A., Baumann, M., Meyfroidt, P. et al. Uncovering major types of deforestation frontiers across the world’s tropical dry woodlands. Nat Sustain 5, 619–627 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41893-022-00886-9

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