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The role of climate in past forest loss in an ecologically important region of South Asia

Haughan, A. E., Pettorelli, N., Potts, S. G. ORCID: and Senapathi, D. ORCID: (2022) The role of climate in past forest loss in an ecologically important region of South Asia. Global Change Biology, 28 (12). pp. 3883-3901. ISSN 1365-2486

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1111/gcb.16161


Tropical forests in India have declined at an alarming rate over the past century, with extensive literature focusing on the high contributions of agricultural expansions to deforestation, while the effects of climate change have largely been overlooked. Climate change effects, such as increasing temperatures, drought and flooding have already occurred, and are projected to worsen. Climate velocity, a metric that accounts for spatial heterogeneity in climate, can help identify contiguous areas under greater climate stress and potential climate refuges in addition to traditional temporal trends. Here, we examined the relative contribution of climate changes to forest loss in India during the period 2001-2018, at two spatial (regional and national) and two temporal (seasonal and annual) scales. This includes, for the first time, a characterisation of climate velocity in the country. Our findings show that annual forest loss increased substantially over the 17 year period examined (2001-2018), with the majority of forest loss occurring in the Northeast region. Decreases in temporal trends of temperature and precipitation were most associated with forest losses but there was large spatial and seasonal variation in the relationship. In every region except the Northeast, forest losses were correlated with faster velocities of at least one climate variable but overlapping areas of high velocities were rare. Our findings indicate that climate changes have played an important role in India’s past forest loss, but likely remain secondary to other factors at present. We stress concern for climates velocities recorded in the country, reaching 97km yr-1, and highlight that understanding the different regional and seasonal relationships between climatic conditions and forest distributions will be key to effective protection of the country’s remaining forests as climate change accelerates.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Life Sciences > School of Agriculture, Policy and Development > Department of Sustainable Land Management > Centre for Agri-environmental Research (CAER)
ID Code:103921


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