Factors influencing spatial pattern in tropical forest clearance and stand age: Implications for carbon storage and species diversity.
Little is known about the tropical forests that undergo clearing as urban/built-up and other developed lands spread. This study uses remote sensing-based maps of Puerto Rico, multinomial logit models and forest inventory data to explain patterns of forest age and the age of forests cleared for land development and assess their implications for forest carbon storage and tree species richness. Accessibility, arability and spatial contagion emerge strongly as overriding spatial controls on tropical forest age, determining (1) the pattern of agricultural abandonment that permits forest regrowth, and (2) where humans leave old-growth forest remnants. Covariation between the factors patterning forest age and land development explains why most forest cleared for land development is younger. Forests are increasingly younger in more accessible and fertile areas where agriculture has lasted longer and land development is most common. All else equal, more species-rich older forest on less arable lands are somewhat less likely to undergo development, but they are still vulnerable to clearing for land development if close to urban centers and unprotected. Accounting for forest age leads to a 19% lower estimate of forest biomass cleared for land development than if forest age is not accounted for.