Conservation and development practitioners increasingly promote community forestry as a way to conserve ecosystem services, consolidate resource rights, and reduce poverty. However, outcomes of community forestry have been mixed, with many initiatives failing to achieve intended objectives. There is a rich literature on community forestry institutional arrangements, but fewer efforts to examine the role of socioeconomic, market, and biophysical factors in shaping both land cover change dynamics, and individual and collective livelihood outcomes. We systematically reviewed the peer-reviewed literature on community forestry to examine and quantify existing knowledge gaps about these factors in the community forestry literature. In examining 697 cases of community forest management, extracted from 267 peer-reviewed publications, we find three key trends that limit our understanding of community forestry. First, there are substantial data gaps linking population dynamics, market forces, and biophysical characteristics to both environmental and livelihood outcomes. Second, most studies focus on environmental outcomes, and the majority of studies that do assess socio-economic outcomes rely on qualitative data, making it difficult to make comparisons across cases. Finally, we find a heavy bias towards studies on South Asian forests, indicating that the literature on community forestry might not be representative of decentralization policies and community forest management globally.