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Forest dynamics in U.S. indicate disproportionate attrition in western forests, rural areas and public lands

Forest dynamics in the U.S. indicate disproportionate attrition in western forests, rural areas and public lands. Sheng Yang, Giorgos Mountrakis. PLOS. Published: February 22, 2017.

“Forests are experiencing significant changes; studying geographic patterns in forests is critical in understanding the impact of forest dynamics to biodiversity, soil erosion, water chemistry and climate. Few studies have examined forest geographic pattern changes other than fragmentation; however, other spatial processes of forest dynamics are of equal importance. Here, we study forest attrition, the complete removal of forest patches, that can result in complete habitat loss, severe decline of population sizes and species richness, and shifts of local and regional environmental conditions. We aim to develop a simple yet insightful proximity-based spatial indicator capturing forest attrition that is independent of spatial scale and boundaries with worldwide application potential. Using this proximity indicator, we evaluate forest attrition across ecoregions, land ownership and urbanization stratifications across continental United States of America. Nationally, the total forest cover loss was approximately 90,400 km2, roughly the size of the state of Maine, constituting a decline of 2.96%. Examining the spatial arrangement of this change the average FAD was 3674m in 1992 and increased by 514m or 14.0% in 2001. Simulations of forest cover loss indicate only a 10m FAD increase suggesting that the observed FAD increase was more than an order of magnitude higher than expected. Furthermore, forest attrition is considerably higher in the western United States, in rural areas and in public lands. Our mathematical model (R2 = 0.93) supports estimation of attrition for a given forest cover. The FAD metric quantifies forest attrition across spatial scales and geographic boundaries and assesses unambiguously changes over time. The metric is applicable to any landscape and offers a new complementary insight on forest landscape patterns from local to global scales, improving future exploration of drivers and repercussions of forest cover changes and supporting more informative management of forest carbon, changing climate and species biodiversity.”

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