Revisiting patterns and processes of forest cover change in the tropics: a case study from southeast Mexico
Vast progress has been made in detecting rates of tropical deforestation, yet the relationship between visible patterns of forest change, multi-scalar human processes and the underlying drivers associated with them is poorly understood. Building on satellite imagery, a household livelihood survey and semi-structured interviews, this research scrutinised changes of forest cover from the mid-1990s to 2015 in a municipality located in southeastern Mexico and investigated the proximate causes and underlying drivers of change at the household and community levels. Emerging evidence indicated that, contrary to the persistent narrative of deforestation for the region, forest cover change is highly dynamic including periods of deforestation and forest recovery. Moreover, a close examination of 24 communities showed forest cover gained terrain, while the agricultural frontier retracted. Drawing on a comparison between the household survey and previous analyses, it could be inferred that forest resurgence was produced by the decrease in the farming area and the increase in the abandonment of farming activities by some communities. Associated with the adaptation of households was the development of formal and informal institutions at the community level in response to macro-global forces linked to the implementation of forest conservation strategies, environmental degradation, market liberalization and increased urbanization. Overall, this research adds not only to our understanding of the complexity of land-use and cover change in emerging globalized economies but also exemplifies the spatial and temporal heterogeneity of tropical forest systems, which challenges partial models of deforestation and policies designed to reduce it. The research may be focused on a narrow region of the globe, nevertheless, the insights and recommendation provided may be useful to further forest conservation schemes in other tropical regions.