Africa's Albertine Rift region faces a juxtaposition of rapid human population growth and protected areas, making it one of the world's most vulnerable biodiversity hotspots. Using satellite-derived estimates of forest cover change, we examined national socioeconomic, demographic, agricultural production, and local demographic and geographic variables, to assess multilevel forces driving local forest cover loss and gain outside protected areas during the first decade of this century. Because the processes that drive forest cover loss and gain are expected to be different, and both are of interest, we constructed models of significant change in each direction. Although rates of forest cover change varied by country, national population change was the strongest driver of forest loss for all countries – with a population doubling predicted to cause 2.06% annual cover loss, while doubling tea production predicted to cause 1.90%. The rate of forest cover gain was associated positively with increased production of the local staple crop cassava, but negatively with local population density and meat production, suggesting production drivers at multiple levels affect reforestation. We found a small but significant decrease in loss rate as distance from protected areas increased, supporting studies suggesting higher rates of landscape change near protected areas. While local population density mitigated the rate of forest cover gain, loss was also correlated with lower local population density, an apparent paradox, but consistent with findings that larger scale forces outweigh local drivers of deforestation. This implicates demographic and market forces at national and international scales as critical drivers of change, calling into question the necessary scales of forest protection policy in this biodiversity hotspot. Using a satellite derived estimate of forest cover change for both loss and gain added a dynamic component to more traditionally static and unidirectional studies, significantly improving our understanding of landscape processes and drivers at work.


Earth Systems Research Center

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Applied Geography



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© 2017 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd.


This is an article published by Elsevier in Applied Geography in 2017, available online: