In the tropics, some agricultural lands are abandoned for economic or technical reasons, leading to the recovery of woody vegetation. Our research aimed to identify the main drivers of spontaneous recovery of vegetation in a basin located in the Colombian Andes. This was done by combining spatially explicit environmental and socioeconomic variables at landscape (e.g. distances to human settlements, to roads, and to forests and mean annual precipitation) and local scales (e.g. depth of the organic layer, soil bulk density, and canopy openness). These variables were measured in 28 temporal plots of 500 m2 each, established in land cover transitions that showed the recovery of woody vegetation. The recovered woody vegetation between 1986 and 2012 exhibited a gregarious spatial pattern at the landscape scale. Ordination analysis showed distinct floristic composition among transitions and remnant forests, and species associated to each one through an indicator species analysis. Multivariate analyses revealed the relationship between the transitions and variables at both scales. Woody vegetation recovery occurred near remnant forests and far from human settlements at the landscape scale. The soil conditions (content and depth of the organic horizon and bulk density) were the main drivers at the local scale. Our findings also highlight the necessity to define different restoration approaches such as incorporation of sites where socioeconomic and environmental conditions favor the spontaneous recovery of vegetation into the existing network of protected areas in the region, and to implement active restoration projects in perturbed sites to accelerate the recovery process of Andean forests.
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