Determinants of deforestation and prediction of future forest loss in remote and rural northeastern Madagascar
The global biodiversity hotspot of Madagascar has already lost much of its natural vegetation and land cover change is mainly driven by deforestation, although forest loss shows large spatial variability. We analyzed satellite images between 1990 and 2018 from northeastern Madagascar to evaluate the contribution of 10 potential variables (e.g., topographic, demographic, forest protection) to explain recent and predict future deforestation probabilities of the remaining forests under four different scenarios. The study region has lost 14% of its forest cover since 1990 and the once continuous north-south rain forest belt has become disrupted at four different locations. Status of forest protection, altitude, proximity to the forest edge, coast, villages, and the valley bottom were determined as significant predictors. At least 20% of the 3,136 villages in the area were only established since 1990 and this housing sprawl is directly related to deforestation. Furthermore, high to very high deforestation probabilities are predicted for up to 43.1% of the remaining forests and further habitat loss is anticipated. Recent deforestation appears to be fueled by negative incentives bringing benefits to local land users for destroying forests, since this is the traditional pathway of land acquisition. Changes in livelihood strategies are most likely a result of reactive behaviors, but may also be triggered in a proactive manner before remaining forests are fully depleted. This study suggests that the maintenance of current landscape connectivity will require the establishment of newly protected areas and strategic planning of forest corridors that should be based on extensive agroforestry systems. However, this process will involve pull factors that are most likely to be initiated by external stakeholders (e.g., NGOs). We therefore highly recommend them to participate in future land use planning in north-eastern Madagascar.