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.