Restoration inside the agricultural frontier, under what conditions does it work?

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Madelon Lohbeck, Ben DeVries, Frans Bongers, Miguel Martinez-Ramos, Armando Navarrete-Segueda, Sergio Nicasio-Arzeta, Christina Siebe, Aline Pingarroni, Germán Wies, Mathieu Decuyper

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Forest regrowth could be effective for meeting restoration commitments, but there is a need to understand under what circumstances forest regrowth takes place and how long secondary forests persist. We studied a recently colonized agricultural frontier in Southern Mexico. We quantified the spatiotemporal dynamics of forest loss and regrowth and tested how temporal variation in climate, and spatial variation in land availability, land quality and accessibility affect forest disturbance, regrowth and secondary forest persistence. We show that Marqués de Comillas consistently exhibits more forest loss than regrowth, resulting in a net decrease of 30% forest cover (1991-2016). Secondary forest cover remained relatively constant while secondary forest persistence increased, suggesting a move away from shifting cultivation. Temporal variation in disturbance and regrowth were explained by annual variation in climate combined with key policy interventions. We found that communal land related to more forest cover and that communities with high-productive soils were able to spare land for forest conservation (more undisturbed forest) and restoration (more persistent secondary forests). When no highproductive soils were available restoration was only possible when farmers owned large tracts of land. We conclude that forest conservation and restoration can be explained by a complex interplay of social and biophysical drivers across time and space. Stimulating private land ownership may cause remaining forest patches to be lost and conservation initiatives should benefit the whole community. Forest regrowth and secondary forest persistence competes with agricultural production so farmers will need to be incentivised to ensure restoration inside the agricultural frontier.

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