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Quantification and monitoring of deforestation in India over eight decades (1930–2013)


There is still large uncertainty over the status of global forest cover owing to the paucity of comprehensive and holistic studies related to long term forest cover change. The aim of the present work is to prepare a nation-wide multi-date forest cover database which describes and quantifies historical and recent changes in natural forests of India. This analysis facilitated the determination of the state of Indian forest cover changes over last eight decades. Here, we have mapped the total area under forest cover, evaluated the spatial tracking of changes in natural forests, estimated the rate of deforestation and afforestation, analysed the biogeographic zone wise and state wise forest cover change, existing land use in deforested area, influence of environmental factors such as terrain on deforestation and implication of different definitions of forest used by agencies reporting deforestation in India. The results indicated that forests covered an area of 869,012 km2 in 1930 which has decreased to 625,565 km2 in 2013, a net loss of 243,447 km2 (28 %) in eight decades. The highest annual average forest loss was found to be 4795 km2 during 1930–1975, 1476 km2 during 1975–1985, 767 km2 during 1985–1995, 356 km2 during 1995–2005 and 209 km2 during 2005–2013. Between 1930 and 1975, forest experienced large scale deforestation at gross annual rate of 0.77 % which has declined to 0.29 % and 0.14 % for the 1975–1985 and 1985–1995 periods respectively. Quantification of annual rate of gross deforestation for the recent period indicates 0.07 % during 1995–2005 and 0.05 % during 2005–2013. The lower rates of deforestation during recent period support effectiveness of conservation measures taken at national level. It was found that deforestation rate has decreased in many biogeographic zones by 2005, except for Andaman & Nicobar Islands and North East. The major deforestation has mostly occurred due to conversion of forests to agriculture. The construction of reservoirs contributed to 4.1 % of forest loss. The tropical forests have experienced large scale deforestation followed by subtropical forests. The findings of the study will be useful to prioritize conservation and protection of forest cover at the regional level. It shall also provide a base for future research on the impacts of deforestation on carbon flux and biodiversity.

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The present work has been carried out as part of ISRO’s National Carbon Project. We gratefully acknowledge ISRO-DOS Geosphere Biosphere Programme for supporting this research. The authors would like to thank Prof. J.S. Singh, Banaras Hindu University, India for critical comments and suggestions. We also thank the editor and anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments which helped us to improve the manuscript.

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Correspondence to C. Sudhakar Reddy.

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Communicated by Frank Chambers.

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Sudhakar Reddy, C., Jha, C.S., Dadhwal, V.K. et al. Quantification and monitoring of deforestation in India over eight decades (1930–2013). Biodivers Conserv 25, 93–116 (2016).

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  • Deforestation
  • Monitoring
  • Forest
  • Conservation
  • Remote sensing
  • India