Forest Loss in Protected Areas and Intact Forest Landscapes: A Global Analysis

PLoS One. 2015 Oct 14;10(10):e0138918. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0138918. eCollection 2015.


In spite of the high importance of forests, global forest loss has remained alarmingly high during the last decades. Forest loss at a global scale has been unveiled with increasingly finer spatial resolution, but the forest extent and loss in protected areas (PAs) and in large intact forest landscapes (IFLs) have not so far been systematically assessed. Moreover, the impact of protection on preserving the IFLs is not well understood. In this study we conducted a consistent assessment of the global forest loss in PAs and IFLs over the period 2000-2012. We used recently published global remote sensing based spatial forest cover change data, being a uniform and consistent dataset over space and time, together with global datasets on PAs' and IFLs' locations. Our analyses revealed that on a global scale 3% of the protected forest, 2.5% of the intact forest, and 1.5% of the protected intact forest were lost during the study period. These forest loss rates are relatively high compared to global total forest loss of 5% for the same time period. The variation in forest losses and in protection effect was large among geographical regions and countries. In some regions the loss in protected forests exceeded 5% (e.g. in Australia and Oceania, and North America) and the relative forest loss was higher inside protected areas than outside those areas (e.g. in Mongolia and parts of Africa, Central Asia, and Europe). At the same time, protection was found to prevent forest loss in several countries (e.g. in South America and Southeast Asia). Globally, high area-weighted forest loss rates of protected and intact forests were associated with high gross domestic product and in the case of protected forests also with high proportions of agricultural land. Our findings reinforce the need for improved understanding of the reasons for the high forest losses in PAs and IFLs and strategies to prevent further losses.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Africa
  • Agriculture / statistics & numerical data
  • Americas
  • Asia
  • Australia
  • Conservation of Natural Resources / statistics & numerical data*
  • Europe
  • Forestry / statistics & numerical data*
  • Forests*
  • Geographic Information Systems
  • Humans
  • Remote Sensing Technology
  • Trees / growth & development

Grant support

The work was funded by Maa- ja vesitekniikan tuki ry. In addition, MK was funded by the Academy of Finland project SCART (grant no. 267463) and MMa by the Academy of Finland project Green Economy and Policies (grant no. 257919). PHV thanks the ERC grant agreement nr. 311819 (GLOLAND) and the FP7 project LUC4C for support. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.