Tackling Deforestation with Innovation

Happy International Day of Forests! This year’s theme is Forests and Innovation: New Solutions for a Better World. Focusing on innovations and technologies to help combat environmental issues such as deforestation and ecosystem restoration.

Deforestation is the purposeful clearing of forested land. Globally, since 1990, 420 million hectares of forest have been lost. This has mainly affected Africa and South America. In addition, around 17% of the Amazonian rainforest has been lost to deforestation.

The main driver of deforestation is agriculture. Large-scale commercial agriculture accounted for 40% of tropical deforestation between 2000 and 2010. A forest is more than just a collection of trees; it’s a community. It is home to various ecosystems that support a wide range of plant and animal species. These species depend on the ecosystems to survive and contribute to the forest’s biodiversity.

Deforestation and Sustainable Development Goals

Forests need to be protected so they can continue to thrive and support Earth’s natural ecosystem. The United Nations has dedicated two sustainable development goals to protecting these ecosystems: SD15 and SDG 13.

SDG 15 is to “protect, restore, and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems; sustainably manage forests; combat desertification; and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss.”

SDG 13 follows a similar message: “to take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.”

This article looks at MDPI research and how we are helping to maintain important ecosystems by protecting forests and helping tackle climate change.

Technologies to protect ecosystems

New technologies and innovations have been crucial in protecting ecosystems such as forests. For example, researchers are using machine learning, a subcategory of artificial intelligence, to predict the rate of deforestation.

Machine learning algorithms are trained to identify relationships and patterns in data. Researchers employ these algorithims to anticipate future occurrences or situations based on predictions using data. Furthermore, machine learning enables the description of underlying patterns within huge datasets, a task that would be difficult for humans to analyze. Because of this, it’s useful in solving challenges in big data analytics, behavioral pattern identification, and information evolution.

Researchers have utlisied this technology in various studies to process forest satellite imagery to predict events and classify images. Additionally, it has been used to identify early observations, this includes identifying changes in the Earth’s surface as well as forest fire management.

Machine learning in deforestation

Regarding deforestation, machine learning has two main strategies:

  • Approaches to detecting the location of areas at risk of deforestation;
  • Approaches to analysing the variables that drive deforestation.

Predicting the rate of deforestation

A study recently published in Applied Sciences uses a machine learning algorithm to more accurately predict deforestation related to palm oil.

The researchers formulated a framework to enable them to accurately predict deforestation; this involved data preparation, criteria assessment, model training and validation, and finally prediction.

They also decided on a set of criteria for the model, which included area, distance to palm oil, distance to mills, distance to roads, distance to water, distance to oil palm concessions, related alerts, number of patches, and distance between patches.

The model was implemented using all the data collected on forest and palm plantations in a province of Indonesia. The researchers conclude that the model can support the development of new strategies concerning deforestation in relation to palm oil.

In addition, using deforestation prediction can aid decisions regarding where and when it is appropriate to open sustainable palm oil plantations. The researchers also state that further research using larger datasets is needed to accurately train the model and thus generate better predictions.

Deforestation and zoonosis

Deforestation can also affect the spread of disease and scientists have linked it to an increased risk of zoonosis. Zoonosis is the spread of disease from animals to humans. Researchers have linked increases in malaria cases in the Amazon to deforestation. This is because the loss of forest canopies can create favourable conditions for the reproduction of mosquito vectors. For example, mosquito vectors thrive in sunlit pools of water.

In addition, animals infected with malaria who usually inhabit the canopies, such as macaque monkeys, now must share the same ground level as humans, increasing the risk of infection. Research suggests that increasing biodiversity within forests can help to disrupt the transmission of diseases.

Dilution method

Increasing biodiversity within forests is referred to as the dilution method, as it dilutes infectious agents via their transmission through various species in the ecosystem. If there are more species inhabiting an ecosystem, there are more opportunities for a pathogen to infect a non-host species.

This can disrupt the pathogen cycle, reducing the concentration of the infection in the environment and the overall risk of reaching a possible host species.

Links between deforestation and zoonosis

A study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health (IJERPH) identified that areas with low endemic species diversity and high human activity, predominately anthropogenic landscapes, posed a high malaria risk.

The researchers suggest encouraging long-term planning of sustainable development as well as natural solutions to tackle biodiversity in these areas. This includes ecotourism, agroforestry, sustainable forestry, sustainable fisheries, and renewable energy. In addition, they also recommend further research into community composition analysis to test the dilution theory as well as evidence-based innovative conversation solutions.

Deforestation effects on ecosystem and climate

Forests as ecosystems perform critical environmental processes, including carbon sequestration, soil generation, climate regulation and maintaining the food chain.

Deforestation threatens these important services and the stability of the forest ecosystem. These processes can be monitored using surface albedo as a parameter to measure climate change.

Surface albedo describes the fraction of the sunlight reflected by the surface of the Earth. It is also referred to as the reflection coefficient. Reflective surfaces such as snow have a high albedo. However, darker surfaces such as forests have a low albedo and tend to absorb more of the sun’s energy.

Deforestation causes a drastic change in albedo which immediately affects climate regulation. In particular, it affects the radiative balance of the ecosystem, which determines the amount of energy at the Earth’s surface, which is used for important ecosystem processes. This includes heating the air or ground, evaporating water and driving photosynthesis.

Changes in albedo caused by deforestation

In addition, the change in albedo initiates a chain of climatic events, including a variation in water evaporation in the atmosphere. This affects environmental humidity levels impacting the water cycle as well as water catchment and carbon sequestration. Altering the amount of atmospheric humidity can interfere with climate regulation. This is because it can cause an increased risk of extreme temperature and weather events.

The world is seeing and understanding this more as it experiences new record-breaking temperatures and an increased presence of meteorological frosts. It’s suggested that changes in albedo may also cause alterations in cloud and rain prevalence, as well as an increase in more extreme weather changes including floods.

Deforestation and carbon dioxide release

Deforestation also affects important processes, including carbon segmentation. Carbon segmentation is the process of capturing and storing atmospheric carbon dioxide. It’s a method that can be used to reduce carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere and tackle climate change.

However, when the cover of canopy trees is removed during deforestation, CO2 and other volatile compounds are released into the atmosphere contributing to climate change.

A study published in Sustainability uses changes in albedo to investigate deforestation in Mexico and its effects on weather patterns. The authors identified that the surface albedo of the study area increased by 2.16% on average over 7 years as a result of deforestation. Furthermore, they detected changes in the overall temperature and humidity that they could link to the increase in albedo.

Because of this, the researchers concluded that reducing deforestation in all forest types could help to mitigate regional climate change.


It’s clear to see that ecosystems such as forests are essential to life on Earth for a variety of reasons.

Stopping deforestation can help to mitigate some of the effects of climate change. In addition, it can also help to prevent the spread of zoonotic diseases. Furthermore, working to decrease the prevalence of deforestation, especially for agricultural purposes, could help to support biodiversity, as well as reduce the amount of carbon emissions and toxic compounds released into the atmosphere, seen as a product of deforestation.

Innovative thinking as well as new technologies could provide a lot of resources that are necessary for preventing deforestation.

If you enjoyed reading about the forest ecosystem and would like to explore similar content, please see our recent articles on working with bees for sustainability.