Degradation and Recovery in Changing Forest Landscapes: A Multiscale Conceptual Framework

Jaboury Ghazoul, Robin Chazdon

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Conceptual confusion revolves around how to define, assess, and overcome land, ecosystem, and landscape degradation. Common elements link degradation and recovery processes, offering ways to advance local, regional, and global initiatives to reduce degradation and promote the recovery of ecosystems and landscapes in forest biomes. Biophysical attributes of degradation and recovery can be measured, but the relevance of selected attributes across scales is subject to values that determine preferred states. Degradation defined in the context of a resilience-based approach is a state where the capacity for regeneration is greatly reduced or lost, recovery is arrested, core interactions and feedbacks are broken, and human intervention is required to initiate a trajectory of recovery. Another approach combines degradation and recovery processes through the concept of recovery debt, the cumulative lost benefits incurred, relative to a target state during phases of degradation and recovery. Degradation and recovery can also be described in terms of societal willingness to invest in improved management or restoration. Interventions can facilitate recovery to new stable or persistent states that provide multiple social and ecological benefits at land, ecosystem, and landscape scales. Multiple trajectories of recovery, as well as historic and ongoing chronic environmental change, might, however, mean that recovery to an original reference state is not possible.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)161-188
Number of pages28
JournalAnnual Review of Environment and Resources
Publication statusPublished - 17 Oct 2017


  • Alternate stable states
  • Arrested succession
  • Complex adaptive systems
  • Ecological resilience
  • Ecosystem degradation
  • Recovery debt
  • Regeneration
  • Restoration


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