Human activities are driving forested areas away from flat terrains and up to hill and mountain slopes, reports research published in Nature Communications. The work suggests that forests on flat terrain are comparatively much more vulnerable to deforestation than those on slopes, and the danger is even greater in countries with growing economies.
Human activities are known to dramatically transform the landscape, for example through the widespread conversion of forest to other land uses, such as agricultural land or urban areas. Brody Sandel and Jens-Christian Svenning use high resolution satellite data to estimate global rates of deforestation between the years 2000 and 2005 and explore the potential climatic variables that could predict forest cover. They also studied the topographic distribution of tree cover and the level of human impact at the same scale. The authors find a close relationship between anthropogenic pressure and forest distribution. They demonstrate that human pressure has resulted in a global tendency for tree cover to be constrained to sloped terrain, while deforestation is most pronounced on flat areas.
Slopes have thus emerged as a current refuge for trees and this is particularly true in developed countries with low population growth rates, high economic growth and effective governments.