A Global Systematic Review of Empirical Evidence of Ecotourism Impacts on Forests in Biodiversity Hotspots

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Ecotourism is growing rapidly in biodiversity hotspots because of its promise to achieve both economic growth and environmental conservation. We reviewed the literature for empirical evidence that ecotourism protects forests. Our conclusions are at once both sobering and encouraging. Ecotourism, as it is typically practiced, leads to deforestation. However, when accompanied by conservation mechanisms (e.g. protected area, Payment for Ecosystem Services, monitoring/enforcement), ecotourism can protect forests. Ecotourism sometimes leads to forest regeneration in agrarian landscapes, but trade-offs, for example old-growth deforestation or water pollution, may occur. From a methodological perspective, we found a dearth (only 17) of articles that empirically analyzed ecotourism impacts on forests, and no studies that used counterfactual impact evaluation approaches. We conclude that there is an insufficient evidence base for inferring effects of ecotourism on forests, and we identify research priorities to build knowledge about how, when, and where to implement ecotourism.