, Volume 24, Issue 5, pp 629-642
Date: 06 Mar 2009

Forest recovery in a tropical landscape: what is the relative importance of biophysical, socioeconomic, and landscape variables?

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Socioeconomic changes in many areas in the tropics have led to increasing urbanization, abandonment of agriculture, and forest re-growth. Although these patterns are well documented, few studies have examined the drivers leading to landscape-level forest recovery and the resulting spatial structure of secondary forests. Land cover transitions from agricultural lands to secondary forest in the island of Puerto Rico have been ongoing since the 1940s. This study is a glimpse into this landscape level trend from 1991 to 2000. First, we relied on Landsat images to characterize changes in the landscape structure for forest, urban, and agricultural land classes. We found that although forest cover has increased in this period, forest has become increasingly fragmented while the area of urban cover has spread faster and become more clustered. Second, we used logistic regression to assess the relationship between the transition to forest and 21 biophysical, socioeconomic, and landscape variables. We found that the percentage of forest cover within a 100 m radius of a point, distance to primary roads and nature reserves, slope, and aspect are the most important predictors of forest recovery. The resulting model predicts the spatial pattern of forest recovery with accuracy (AUC-ROC = 0.798). Together, our results suggest that forest recovery in Puerto Rico has slowed down and that increasing pressure from urbanization may be critical in determining future landscape level forest recovery. These results are relevant to other areas in the tropics that are undergoing rapid economic development.