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Hidden destruction of older forests threatens Brazil’s Atlantic Forest and challenges restoration programs
Understanding the dynamics of native forest loss and gain is critical for biodiversity conservation and ecosystem services, especially in regions experiencing intense forest transformations. We quantified native forest cover dynamics on an annual basis from 1990 to 2017 in Brazil’s Atlantic Forest. Despite the relative stability of native forest cover during this period (~28 Mha), the ongoing loss of older native forests, mostly on flatter terrains, have been hidden by the increasing gain of younger native forest cover, mostly on marginal lands for mechanized agriculture. Changes in native forest cover and its spatial distribution increased forest isolation in 36.4% of the landscapes. The clearance of older forests associated with the recut of 27% of younger forests has resulted in a progressive rejuvenation of the native forest cover. We highlight the need to include native forest spatiotemporal dynamics into restoration programs to better estimate their expected benefits and unexpected problems.