A New Field Protocol for Monitoring Forest Degradation

Charlotte Wheeler*, Edward Mitchard, Hugo E. Nalasco Reyes, Gloria Iñiguez Harrera, Jose I. Marques Rubio, Harry Carstairs, Mathew Williams

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Forest degradation leads to the gradual reduction of forest carbon stocks, function, and biodiversity following anthropogenic disturbance. Whilst tropical degradation is a widespread problem, it is currently very under-studied and its magnitude and extent are largely unknown. This is due, at least in part, to the lack of developed and tested methods for monitoring degradation. Due to the relatively subtle and ongoing changes associated with degradation, which can include the removal of small trees for fuelwood or understory clearance for agricultural production, it is very hard to detect using Earth Observation. Furthermore, degrading activities are normally spatially heterogeneous and stochastic, and therefore conventional forest inventory plots distributed across a landscape do not act as suitable indicators: at best only a small proportion of plots (often zero) will actually be degraded in a landscape undergoing active degradation. This problem is compounded because the metal tree tags used in permanent forest inventory plots likely deter tree clearance, biasing inventories towards under-reporting change. We have therefore developed a new forest plot protocol designed to monitor forest degradation. This involves a plot that can be set up quickly, so a large number can be established across a landscape, and easily remeasured, even though it does not use tree tags or other obvious markers. We present data from a demonstration plot network set up in Jalisco, Mexico, which were measured twice between 2017 and 2018. The protocol was successful, with one plot detecting degradation under our definition (losing greater than 10% AGB but remaining forest), and a further plot being deforested for Avocado (Persea americana) production. Live AGB ranged from 8.4 Mg ha-1 to 140.8 Mg ha-1 in Census 1, and from 0 Mg ha-1 to 144.2 Mg ha-1 Census 2, with four of ten plots losing AGB, and the remainder staying stable or showing slight increases. We suggest this protocol has great potential for underpinning appropriate forest plot networks for degradation monitoring, potentially in combination with Earth Observation analysis, but also in isolation.
Original languageEnglish
JournalFrontiers in Forests and Global Change
Publication statusPublished - 25 Aug 2021


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