Plant Diversity 2017, 39(03) 149-153 DOI:  ISSN: 2096-2703 CN: 53-1233

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Forest transition
Rubber plantation
Time lag
Tropical China

Lost in transition: Forest transition and natural forest loss in tropical China

Deli Zhai a, b, c, *, Jianchu Xu a, b, Zhicong Dai c, Dietrich Schmidt-Vogt a, b, d

a Centre for Mountain Ecosystem Studies (CMES), Kunming Institute of Botany (CAS), Lanhei Road 132, Kunming 650201, China
b World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), Central and East Asia Office, Lanhei Road132, Kunming 650201, China
c Institute of Environment and Ecology, School of the Environment and Safety Engineering, Jiangsu University, No. 301, Xuefu Road, Zhenjiang 212013, China
d Mountain Societies Research Institute, University of Central Asia, 138 Toktogul Street, Bishkek 720001, Kyrgyzstan


The term forest transition refers to a change in forest cover over a given area from a period of net forest area loss to a period of net gain. Whether transitioning from deforestation to reforestation can lead to improved ecosystem services, depends on the quality and characteristics of the newly established forest cover. Using publicly available data, we examine forest transition in two regions of tropical China: Hainan Island and Xishuangbanna. We found that the overall increase of forest cover in both areas during the 1980s was due to an increase in plantation forests rather than to increases in the area covered by natural forest. We also found a time lag between the increase in overall forest cover and an increase in natural forest. On Hainan Island, natural forest continued to decline beyond the point in time when overall forest cover had started to increase, and only began to recover ten years after the turning point in 1978. In Xishuangbanna, where the transition point occurred ten years later, the decline of natural forest cover is still going on. These divergent trends underlying forest transition are concealed by the continued practice to apply the term “forest” broadly, without distinguishing between natural forests and planted forests. Due to the use of undiscriminating terminology, the loss of natural forest may go unnoticed, increasing the risk of plantation forests displacing natural forests in the course of forest transition. Our findings are important for programs related to forest management and ecosystem services improvement, including reforestation and Payments for Ecosystem Services programs.

Keywords Deforestation   Forest transition   Rubber plantation   Time lag   Tropical China  
Received 2016-11-24 Revised  Online: 2017-05-25 
Fund:the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant 31300403) and the China Postdoctoral Science Foundation (Grant 2013M540722). This research is part of the CGIAR Research Program 6: Forests, Trees, and Agroforestry. The
research is also part of the BMZ/GIZ “Green Rubber” (Project No. 13.1432.7-001.00) and ‘SURUMER’ (Project No. 01LL0919A) funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) under Grant number FKZ 01LL0919
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