Brazilian Atlantic Forest remnants scattered mainly across private properties.

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The experiences people have with nature can be either positive or negative and affect how people feel, think and act towards nature. The opportunities to experience nature in turn depend on the characteristics of the places where people live. Studies investigating these human-nature relationships mostly consider how urbanization in developed countries alters experiences with nature reducing people’s daily contact with nature and leading to disconnection and nature devaluation. However, urbanization is not all that matters; considering how deforestation can change links between people and nature is also very important, in particular within private lands in rural areas of the tropics where most tropical forest remnants are located. Hence, understanding how the ecological context in rural settings may alter the way landowners experience forests, and how these experiences affect their decisions and behaviors towards nature, is essential to tropical forest conservation.
In our study, we investigate how the amount of remaining native forest in the landscape surrounding the houses of 106 landowners in the Brazilian Atlantic Forest affects the contact these landowners have with this ecosystem (how often they visit the forest), the benefits (e.g. water, food, medicinal plants, joy) and disadvantages (e.g. less land for crops/ livestock, attacks from venomous animals, or attacks from wildlife on crops or livestock) they receive from the forest, and how these three experiences alter their intention of taking care of the forest within their properties. Our results show that the amount of remaining forest where people live indeed affects the chances of having contact with and experiencing forests. Specifically, the more deforested the landscape, the lower the frequency of receiving benefits from forests. We also found that people that have less contact with and receive less benefits from forest are those with weaker intention of taking care of their own forests. Hence, our study suggests that deforestation, similarly to urbanization, decreases the chance of people having nature experiences and impairs human-nature connections and conservation support.
As such, our study highlights the relevance of taking into account how local people experience and value nature, as well as the ecological context where people live, for the planning of efficient conservation strategies in rural areas of the tropic. In deforested landscapes, where human-nature connections have been impaired, it is crucial to counteract the extinction of nature experience and increase landowners’ perception of the value of forests. However, available strategies, such as outdoor education programs or nature camps, were developed mainly for urban children and youth. Developing similar strategies targeting rural people is thus key to escape the reinforcing cycle of nature devaluation triggered by deforestation and increase conservation support in the tropics.

Interviewing rural landowners can help to understand their relationship with forests and their support for forest conservation.