Tropical Forest Degradation: Observations, Modeling, and Socio-ecological Implications

Date and Venue

Manaus_AM, 24 de abril de 2017
Documentacao fotografica do projeto AmazonFACE na ZF2.

Date: 11-13 November 2019

Venue: Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazônia (INPA)

Av. André Araújo, 2936, Aleixo, CEP 69060-001, Manaus – AM



Pervasive regions of the humid tropics have been degraded by human activity through selective logging, understory fires, and habitat fragmentation. Consequences of forest degradation range from loss of carbon stocks to loss of biodiversity leaving forests and the communities dependent on them vulnerable to climatic extremes (Aragão et al., 2018; Pinho et al., 2015). Globally, tropical deforestation and forest degradation impacts the ecosystem services (e.g, biodiversity, water, and climate regulation) that support the livelihoods of 1.6 billion people including communities that are among the world’s poorest and most vulnerable (Adger et al 2014; IUCN, 2017; Roy et al 2018). While measuring deforestation using satellite-based estimates of land cover change is relatively straight forward, these same strategies for quantifying forest degradation are limited in their ability to capture more subtle changes in the ecosystem structure and biomass loss associated with degraded tropical forests (Hansen et al., 2013). However, recent estimates of disturbance and degradation suggest that these processes are a significant component (~69%) of the total carbon lost from tropical regions (Baccini et al., 2017). Accurate attribution of natural versus anthropogenic losses and their effects on different carbon pools through modeling is critical to support robust decision-making to avoid further loss and restore already degraded forest (Hurtt et al., 2019). As forest degradation processes are driven by socioeconomic and political decisions, understanding both the history and future of these decisions on forest integrity is critical for populations directly dependent on the forest for their livelihoods and regional economies (Leach & Fairhead 2016). Recent advancements in measuring and modeling global vegetation are encouraging for quantifying and understanding the mechanistic processes of forest degradation. New satellite missions that use lidar and synthetic aperture radar (SAR) technologies will provide data on ecosystem structure at a spatial scale and resolution useful for benchmarking global model estimates of degradation including ESAs BIOMASS, NASAs current GEDI and planned NISAR missions, and DLRs Tandem-L mission concept, and recent model developments can provide more detailed representation of 3D vegetation structure and dynamics (Fisher et al., 2017). In consideration of these advancements, we will also discuss how to better represent socio-economic and political inequalities that act as drivers of forest degradation through scenarios and future trajectories to support decision-making processes as the ecological integrity of forests directly benefits human wellbeing (Agrawal et al., 2018; Rodrigues et al., 2009). Therefore the timing is critical to meet as a cross disciplinary community to develop a method for quantifying forest degradation in order to directly incorporate the mechanistic processes of degradation in models, accounting for the drivers of changes, ecosystem services, biodiversity and livelihood dimensions, thereby providing robust predictions of future climate change impacts over tropical areas. Such a multidisciplinary perspective will greatly advance scientific knowledge in the areas of modeling and observations and will provide relevant information to decision makers for their climate and biodiversity agendas contributing to broader socio-ecological systems security.

Approach and Goals

The workshop was structured around four objectives:

1. Bring together experts in land use and ecosystem modeling, field ecology, remote sensing, and social science to leverage the expertise, promote synergies among research communities and develop a formal strategy for better integration of observing, monitoring and modeling tropical forest degradation and its impacts in livelihoods regional sustainability under a changing climate from a multi-scale perspective.

2. Highlight current strategies and approaches for measuring and modeling forest degradation to identify observational strategies, model development, and associated challenges that limit current capabilities.

3. Reflect on how remote sensing is an effective instrument to help reduce climate change risks to socio-ecological systems associated with forest degradation.

4. Identify new initiatives and collaborations to advance the understanding of forest degradation processes and reduce the impacts and risks to livelihoods and sustainability in tropical regions. 

This workshop addressed the above issues and developed a roadmap for future progress in this area for the preparation and publication of an interdisciplinary commentary or perspective article. In addition, a brief summary for decision makers on the discussions and conclusions obtained in the workshop was produced, as well as the establishment of a community focused on the integration of new strategies for observation and modeling of forest degradation in the tropical region.

Workshop Structure

The meeting was organized by a scientific steering committee led by the Future Earth global research project Analysis, Integration and Modeling of the Earth System (AIMES) and participation will be primarily by invitation. The meeting was open to a small number of other participants (~30). David Lapola, Luiz Aragão, and Patricia Pinho led the workshop and helped organize the writing efforts that follow.

The workshop took place over three days. Day 1 was in plenary mode, with an introductory talk describing goals of the workshop and paper, an overview on the concept of forest degradation spanning perspectives from the field, to mapping degradation using remote sensing, to modeling these processes, to the human dimension of land use change and the effects on ecosystems services and human wellbeing. The morning of Day 2 was in breakout groups for discussion, initial synthesis, and identification of future research objectives. In the afternoon the groups finished their summaries and reported back in plenary session, followed by discussion and synthesis, including presentation of a suggested outline for the paper that will be produced by the group.

On Day 3 we took a fieldtrip to visit the ZF2 research station in the rainforest nearby Manaus for an opportunity to experience the world’s largest tropical forest in a scientific context. We were able to see some long-standing research carried out there at the site (such as the LBA flux tower site) and some newer projects like the CO2 enrichment experiment AmazonFACE.


Philip FearnsideInstituto Nacional de Pesquisas da AmazôniaDegradation threats in Brazil’s Amazon forests
Rachel CarmentaCambridge UniversityHuman dimensions of forest degradation: the case of tropical fire
Jos BarlowLancaster UniversityClimatic extremes and local forest disturbance as co-occurring drivers of biodiversity loss
Erika BerenguerOxford UniversityCombined impacts of climate extremes and human disturbances in the Amazon
Joice FerreiraEMBRAPAForest recovery after disturbances
Dolors ArmenterasUniversidad Nacional de ColombiaScientific Challenges in Colombia and the Need of a Framework to Transfer Forest Degradation Measurements to Local Management
Celso von RandowInstituto Nacional de Pesquisas EspaciaisDegradation Trajectories in the Amazon and their Contribution for Greenhouse Gases Emissions
Wayne WalkerWoods Hole Research CenterThe Role of Forest Conversion, Degradation, and Disturbance in the Carbon Dynamics of the Amazon
Marcos CostaUniversity of ViçosaModeling forest degradation using dynamic vegetation models – approaches and strategies for implementation
Rüdiger SchaldachUniversity of KasselChallenges in modelling social-ecological processes in tropical land systems leading to deforestation and forest degradation
Charles KovenLawrence Berkeley National LabIntegrating Land-use and Forest Degradation Dynamics into FATES
Kathy HibbardNASA HQNASA’s Earth Observations and AIMES
Patricia PinhoStockholm Resilience CentreTime for loss and damage agenda for risk reduction in the Amazon

Scientific steering committee

David Lapola (University of Campinas, Brazil)

Patricia Pinho (Stockholm Resilience Centre, Sweden; UNDP, Brazil)

Luiz Aragão (INPE, Brazil)

Julia Pongratz (University of Munich, Germany)

Natasha MacBean (University of Indiana, USA)



Celso von Randow

Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais

Marcos Costa

University of Viçosa

Liana Anderson


Joice Ferreira


Philip Fearnside

Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazônia

Luciana Gatti

Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais

David Lapola

University of Campinas

Luiz Aragão

Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais

Ane Alencar

Instituto de Pesquisa Ambiental da Amazônia

Sonaira Silva

University of Acre

Rüdiger Schaldach

University of Kassel

Dolors Armenteras

Universidad Nacional de Colombia

Patricia Pinho

Stockholm Resilience Centre

Jos Barlow

Lancaster University

Erika Berenguer

Oxford University

Rachel Carmenta

Cambridge University

Sassan Saatchi

NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Charles Koven

Lawrence Berkeley National Lab

Victor Hugo Gutierrez-Velez

Temple University

Peter Lawrence

National Center for Atmospheric Research

Louise Chini

University of Maryland

Kim Calders

Ghent University

Wayne Walker

Woods Hole Research Center

Victor Brovkin

Max Planck Institute for Meteorology

Mark Rounsevell

Karlsruhe Institute of Technology

Kathy Hibbard


Alex Ruane

NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies

Zhangang Han

Beijing Normal University

Beto Quesada

Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazônia

Jeff Chambers

University of California, Berkeley


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