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Social-Ecological Systems Meta-Analysis Database: Theory

Forest transition theory

Variable relationship:

Forest Transition theory is based on the empirical observation that as income (Economic Status) rises within poor countries, deforestation increases up to a certain point, but then begins to decrease (Commons Condition Trend). Posited reasons include relative prices and scarcity (i.e. in poor countries, agricultural land tends to be highly desirable, even if not very productive, so farmers may clear forests to practice subsistence agriculture. But then as economic development increases, subsistence farmers may abandon land in favor of migrating to urban areas with better economic opportunities, while industrial demand for wood drives up prices and encourages commercial forestry) or policy (i.e. people may demand better forest protections, forest dwellers may gain more rights, or government policies may shift towards encouraging forest product imports and conserving domestic forests).  The proximate causes in this theory are not well understood, but economic status is widely seen as an underlying variable.

Scientific Field
Component Type(s)
Environmental Common, Natural Resource System, Actor


VariableRoleRole ExplanationValue
Economic statusUnderlying independent variableSmall reductions in levels of poverty are associated with declines in forest condition up until an inflection point at which forest conditions begin to improve. Increasing
Commons condition trendFinal outcomeForest Transition theory argues that forest conditions tend to decline with rising economic status, but then begin to improve above some critical value. Worsened then improved

Related Theories

TheoryRelationshipCharacterizing Variables
Environmental kuznets curverelated
Poverty and resource degradationrelated

Related Studies


Mather, A. S., and C. L. Needle. 1998. "The forest transition: a theoretical basis."  Area 30 (2):117-124. doi: doi:10.1111/j.1475-4762.1998.tb00055.x.


Mather, A. S. 2007. "Recent Asian forest transitions in relation to forest-transition theory."  International Forestry Review 9 (1):491-502.


Rudel, Thomas K., O. T. Coomes, E. Moran, F. Achard, A. Angelsen, J. C. Xu, and E. Lambin. 2005. "Forest transitions: towards a global understanding of land use change."  Global Environmental Change-Human and Policy Dimensions 15 (1):23-31.


Hyde, W. F. (2012). The global economics of forestry. New York, NY, RFF Press.