Alarm: the tropical dry forest loses 71 million hectares so far in the 21st century

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In research published in Nature Sustainabilityresearchers from the Department of Geography of the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin and the Institute of Earth and Life of the Catholic University of Leuven provide the most comprehensive global assessment of deforestation processes in the world’s dry forests and woodlands to date.

Using time series of high-resolution satellite images of forest loss for the period from 2000 to 2020the team analyzed the spatial and temporal patterns of deforestation in more than 18 million square kilometers of dry tropical forests and woodlands.

“The main innovation of our study is that we developed a methodology that goes beyond pointing out deforestation”explained in a statement Tobias Kuemmerleprofessor at the Department of Geography at Humboldt-Universität. “We can detect and map in detail where deforestation is accelerating and where it has slowed down, and whether it results in fragmented landscapes or if forests are lost entirely”he added.


The results are alarming. Since 2000, more than 71 million hectares of dry forest were destroyed, an area about twice the size of Germany. Many hotspots of deforestation are concentrated in South AmericaAs the Gran Chaco in Argentina, Paraguay and Bolivia, or the Cerrado in Brazilas well as in Asiasuch as the dry forests of Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.

“What’s also worrying is that we found that a third of all remaining dry forest is located in areas where deforestation is already taking place.”highlighted Matthias Baumannco-author of the study, adding: “We’re going to lose a lot of these unique forests in the near future, if we don’t protect them better“.


Much of the deforestation occurs when capital-intensive agriculture extends into dry forests. “Amazingly about 55% of the areas – where deforestation frontiers recently emerged – are located in african dry forests“, highlighted Patrick Meyfroidtanother study co-author, saying, “We can expect agricultural expansion to accelerate a lot in the future“. Since many world producers have the sight set on the region.

Deforestation in the tropics generates major environmental and social problems: the biodiversity lossthe carbon emissionsthe spread of zoonotic diseases Hello marginalization of millions of inhabitants local who depend on these forests for their livelihoods.

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Unfortunately, the fate of dry forests and savannahs is often overlooked by research, by policymakers, and by the public. Ana Buchadasa researcher at the Department of Geography at the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin said that “this is problematic because these ecosystems are really exceptional and equally threatened as tropical forests in many parts of the world”.

Needed better monitoring of deforestation and better planning of land use and sustainability, according to the authors. “Our work allowed us to identify recurring patterns of deforestation processes on different continents. It can be a good starting point to develop policy tools that are better adapted to local conditions.“Buchadas assured.

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According to the researchers, the results are also a great opportunity to learn from a situationfor example, policy interventions that worked in South America, for other situations, such as when deforestation is starting in Africa.

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