Colombian Andean forests cover nine million ha. These forests provide an informative case study of mountain deforestation in South America. They are surrounded by tropical lowland forests, and they host most of the countrys human population. This study evaluates the relative importance of human and natural variables in deforestation of the Colombian Andes between 1985 and 2005 using remote sensing methods, geographic information system (GIS) technology and general linear models (GLM). The following factors affected the annual deforestation in the region positively: forced population migration, unsatisfied basic needs, economic activity, crops, pastures, illicit crops, protected areas and slope. Factors having a negative effect were tenure of small land parcels, road density, water scarcity and mean temperature. The results of this study also provide insight into the differences between the dynamics of lowland forests and those of montane forests. Montane forests had a lower annual rate of deforestation than did forests in the lowlands. Socio-economic, demographic and biophysical factors explain overall deforestation rates for the region. However, when altitude variation is taken into account, intraregional differences in the Andes become evident. Deforestation processes differ between those areas adjacent to the high Andean valleys where most of the countrys population concentrates and those areas in the tropical lowlands north, west and east of the Andean chain. Differences between lowland and montane forest dynamics are due partly to the accessibility of forests and differences in wealth and economic activities. In montane forests, deforestation is positively influenced by economic activity, the presence of protected areas and higher slopes. Deforestation in montane forests is negatively affected by tenure of small land parcels, road density, water scarcity and mean temperature. Lowland deforestation rates are more closely related to rural population, pasture percentage, crops, protected areas and temperature. Our results suggest that montane forests appear to be in a more advanced stage of colonisation and economic development, whereas lowland forests are closer to the colonisation frontier and to rapidly growing colonist populations. This study reinforces the idea that although the most common tropical drivers of deforestation are found in the Andes, these drivers operate differently when intraregional differences are considered.
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