Defaunation as the missing piece in forest governance

Project: Research

Project Details


It is now widely known that the world’s forests store vast amounts of carbon, are the habitat of countless plant and animal species and are of tremendous cultural significance as well as a vital source for people’s livelihoods, food and income. However, forests and forest fauna is under threat due to logging, conversion to agricultural land but also due to overhunting. While human activities directly affect forest cover through conversion, fragmentation and degradation (e.g., selective logging), the loss of fauna in otherwise intact forests constitutes an important, but often overlooked driver of forest degradation. In the long run, the loss of forest fauna, also called defaunation, leads to reduced forest resilience, a decline in tree species diversity and eventually a decline in forest carbon. Despite the significance of faunal loss as a human-induced process that significantly erodes key ecosystem services and functions, global forest conservation initiatives currently mandated by the United Nations are mainly concerned with preserving tree cover while the preservation of fauna is neglected.

The aim of this project is to study the relationship between global and national forest governance and local hunting practices in Indigenous communities that own rainforest land in the Amazon region of Ecuador and Colombia. Both countries are biologically mega diverse countries, but are currently undergoing rapid environmental changes due to deforestation and biodiversity loss.

Specifically, this project examines:
The ways in which forest governance (laws, policies and programs) in Ecuador and Colombia account for forest fauna and hunting in their approach to forest conservation.
The role of hunting in the livelihoods of local forest communities and the incentives and disincentives influence the protection of animal species.
The formal and informal institutions that enable and constrain sustainable forest management?

The aim of this research is to fill important gaps in our knowledge of environmentally effective and socially equitable strategies of forest governance through attention to forest fauna, a crucial missing variable in most existing analyses. The use of forest cover as a proxy for measuring conservation success has important implications and shortcomings:

First, defaunation as a distal driver of forest loss is rarely considered in forest conservation discussions and not reflected in current forest monitoring approaches.

Second, together with habitat loss, the unsustainable harvest of wildlife poses a serious threat to biodiversity as well as to people that depend on wild meat for food and income.

Third, the harvest and hunting of wild species is a crucial element of the culture and identity of rural communities. For environmentally effective and socially equitable conservation of forests, we need to better understand what drives hunting behaviour and how it is being addressed in forest governance as well as formal and informal institutions. Thus, without accounting for defaunation and without sensibly addressing it in economic incentive mechanisms for forest conservation like REDD+, such mechanisms will be significantly limited in their environmental effectiveness.
Short titleSilent Forests
Effective start/end date2016/01/012020/06/30


  • Swedish Research Council

UKÄ subject classification

  • Social Sciences Interdisciplinary
  • Earth and Related Environmental Sciences

Free keywords

  • Defaunation
  • Forest governance