Schneider L.

Land Transitions in the Tropics: Going Beyond the Case Studies

Uriarte, M., Schneider, L. and Rudel, T. K. (2010), Land Transitions in the Tropics: Going Beyond the Case Studies. Biotropica, 42: 1–2. doi: 10.1111/j.1744-7429.2009.00580.x

Abstract: 
Estimates of the percent of Earth’s land surface that has either been transformed or degraded by human activity range between 39 and 50 percent, with agriculture accounting for the vast majority of these changes. Although much of the focus of research on land use and cover change in the tropics has been on deforestation, ongoing socioeconomic changes both locally and globally have made land transitions in the tropics extremely fluid. In addition, feedbacks between land cover change and human behavior constrain the extent and trajectories of land transitions. The sustainability of land use systems in the tropics depends on an understanding of coupled human–natural systems that can lead to general frameworks for management and prediction. The unprecedented availability of land use/cover data together with ecological data collected at large spatial scales offer exciting opportunities for advancing our understanding of socioecological systems. We rely on six studies of land transitions in the tropics to illustrate some promising approaches and pose critical questions to guide this body of research.

Synthesis: Land Transitions in the Tropics

Uriarte, M., L. Schneider, and T. K. Rudel. 2010b. Synthesis:
land use transitions in the tropics. Biotropica 42:59–62.

Abstract: 
Land cover transformations in the tropics are not limited to deforestation; they include other complex transitions such as agricultural and urban expansion, pasture development, and secondary vegetation regrowth. Understanding the causes and extent of these highly variable and complex transitions requires close collaboration between biological, physical, and social scientists. Here we address three critical issues in the study of land transitions: (1) What methodological and socioecological criteria should be used for characterizing land cover categories and transformations? Results from case studies presented here call for the creation of continuous land cover classes that allow for detection of disturbance and human use dynamics and consideration of socioeconomic and biophysical criteria in characterizing and monitoring land transitions. (2) What are the most promising theoretical frameworks? Successful theoretical frameworks must bridge disciplinary boundaries, and encompass multiple spatial, temporal, and political scales. (3) Are regime shifts, constraints, and resilience of land transformations in the tropics predictable? Resilience of land use systems requires a feedback loop between ecological constraints and management decisions. This loop may be broken by policies, migration, and flow of capital from global commodity markets. In addition, land transformations may lead to novel interactions between land-use and natural disturbance leading to unpredictable regime shifts in ecosystems. Planning for sustainable patterns of land use requires some understanding of these regime transformations.
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